Cleveland-based book award recognizes four authors for their work

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Reporter

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On Sept. 26, members of the Cleveland community attended the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards at the KeyBank State Theatre in Playhouse Square. The award was created in 1935 by poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf to recognize authors who “challenge racism and celebrate diversity.” 

The Anisfield-Wolf awards have run for 84 years. Over 200 written works have received Anisfield-Wolf awards. Past winners include “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” by Martin Luther King Jr. and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. 

Four authors received awards at the ceremony. 

The first was Tracy K. Smith, for “Wade in the Water” a collection of poems. “Wade in the Water” includes a series of letters from black soldiers in the Civil War and a poem called “Watershed” which addresses chemicals being dumped in the Ohio River. Smith received a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2012 for “Life on Mars” and served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2017-2019. 

The second Anisfield-Wolf award went to Tommy Orange. Orange’s novel, “There There” follows the lives of 12 urban Native Americans. Orange described this group as being “double invisible” despite making up the majority of the United States’ indigenious population. “There There” has also received the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize and the 2019 American Book Award.

Andrew Delbanco received the third award on Thursday for his nonfiction novel, “The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War.” Delbanco wrote it to discuss the impact of fugitive slave laws on Antebellum America. He described them as impacting all African Americans, not just those who were former slaves, for they could be brought to the South if they were misidentified as runaway slaves. In addition to his Anisfield-Wolf award, Delbanco has received a National Humanities Medal. 

The final award of the night went to poet, playwright, activist and educator Sonia Sanchez. Sanchez received a Lifetime Achievement award for her past work and is a key figure in the Black Arts Movement. She read some of her poems and encouraged the audience to vote. Sanchez previously won the Wallace Stevens Award from the American Academy of Poets and was the poet laureate for the City of Philadelphia. 

In addition to hearing from the award winners, the audience was treated to a performance from 10-year-old Logan Greer. Greer is a student at Campus International School in Cleveland. She read her original poem “City of Growing Up” which reflects the multifaceted nature of Cleveland. 

Following the awards ceremony was a reception where attendees could meet the authors and enjoy refreshments. At the reception, first-year student Lydia Mandell said that she enjoyed attending the Anisfield-Wolf awards, naming Sonia Sanchez as her favorite speaker because of her message about intersectionality and the need to uplift others.