Anisfield-Wolf book awards brings knowledge of diversity to Cleveland

September 17th, 2015


The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony presented by The Cleveland Foundation was held in the Ohio Theatre on Sept. 10, 2015.


For eighty years, the City of Cleveland has held the honor of being the home to the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony. This award was created in 1935 by Edith Anisfield-Wolf, a local poet and philanthropist, whose dedication to social justice inspired her to create an award for gifted writers who shared similar interest in social justice.


The award was created for those authors who boldly carry out challenging discussions of race, racism and cultural diversity in their writing. The ceremony is also hosted right in the Ohio Theatre of downtown Cleveland every year.


Each of the pieces honored aspires to put an end to the issues that surround these topics by challenging ignorance. The writers tell their own stories or give a voice to people who have different perspectives when it comes to race, racism, and cultural diversity.


Today, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award has grown tremendously, becoming nationally recognized as the only honor in the United States that is dedicated solely to addressing race and diversity issues through literature.


There are now over 150 authors who have received this award since its creation in 1935. Some of the more famous recipients include Toni Morrison, Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King Jr. and this year’s host and chairman of the selection jury for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates.


In comparison to past award recipients, where only one to three writers were recognized, this year, there were five award recipients in total.


Every year, the authors who win the award bring unique perspectives through their pieces, which contribute immensely to the conversation of race and diversity as they all come from different cultural backgrounds.


This year, two out of the five winning authors were poets. This was also the first year that poetry has ever been an official category in the award ceremony.


The other award categories have always been fiction, nonfiction, and the lifetime achievement award.


This year’s winners included Jericho Brown (poetry), Marilyn Chin (poetry), Richard S. Dunn (nonfiction), Marlon James (fiction), and David Brion Davis (the lifetime achievement recipient).


During the ceremony, the audience seemed to experience a wide array of emotions, laughing at Gates’ jokes and Marilyn Chin’s sassy readings which she called, “naughty girl haikus.” The audience cried with Jericho Brown as he stood proud and tearfully explained how he personally feels burdened to be a black and openly gay man in today’s society.


Richard S. Dunn won the audience’s praise as he explained how through his research he was responsible for tracing the genealogy of thousands of African-American and Jamaican slaves.


Pride was a very common theme for all who spoke in front of the crowd, casting a sense of unity throughout the theater.


Even with the prestige of the award and the star power of its recipients past and present, much of the City of Cleveland miss out on becoming involved with the annual award ceremony.


Tickets to the ceremony are free each year, yet many Clevelanders do not even realize that this award exists and thrives in their city. This fact remains an unsolved mystery to the recipient selection jury and all others involved with making this event happen each year.


The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first and largest community foundation, has stepped up to support the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards by contributing significant amounts of resources each year. These resources are used to ensure the continued success of the award.


Ronald B. Richard, President and CEO of The Cleveland Foundation, spoke during the award ceremony, saying, “We [The staff of The Cleveland Foundation] are proud that Edith Anisfield Wolf entrusted us to carry on her legacy with this important and unique award.”


Richard continued, urging supporters to “find yourself challenged to think deeply and differently… to value and respect our unique heritages… and to celebrate our differences while finding common bonds.”


In a time where there seems to be much disconnect between people of different racial and cultural backgrounds, Cleveland is making strides toward educating the public about these issues, with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards as a prime example.


For more information on the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and the award-winners, please visit