Here Are the Winners of the 2019 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

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The 2019 winners of the 83rd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the Cleveland-based contest that focuses on books that explore and challenge race and diversity, were announced last night and you should immediately add them to your reading lists, if you haven't yet already tackled them.

Nonfiction: The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War, by Andrew Delbanco

The scholar spent almost ten years researching and writing “The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War.” It focuses on the courageous enslaved people who risked their lives to flee bondage, the slave-owning citizens who demanded the return of their “property,” and the political, legal and moral furor that lit the fuse of the Civil War.

“Andrew Delbanco is one of our generation’s most gifted scholars and discerning public intellectuals,” Anisfield-Wolf Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote. The book “transforms the figures of fugitive slaves from the margins of American history to its dynamic center, demonstrating how their plight exposed the paradoxes in the soul of a nation torn between freedom and slavery, as it propelled itself to its greatest reckoning.”
Fiction: There There, by Tommy Orange

Orange waited tables in New Mexico and worked in a Native Health Center in Oakland. The idea for “There There” came to him in a single moment in 2010, as he was driving to a piano concert. It was the same year he learned he would become a father to his son.

“There’s a dehumanization that’s happened with Native people because of all these misperceptions about what we are,” he told National Public Radio. “And it’s convenient to think of us as gone, or drunks or dumb. It’s convenient to not have to think about a brutal history and a people surviving and still being alive and well today, thriving in various different forms of life, good and bad. I wanted to represent a range of human experiences as a way to humanize Native people.”
Lifetime Achievement: Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez – poet, playwright, activist and educator – is an architect of the Black Arts Movement, a mid-20th century renewal of black will, energy and artist awareness. She has spent most of her 84 years calling all types of people toward freedom and dignity with her pen and her voice. Sanchez is celebrated for elevating the performative aspect of language, its musicality and repetition, and for her storyteller’s electric rapport with audiences.

“I write to keep contact with our ancestors and spread the truth to people,” Sanchez says. Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes her work in both the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movement as molding generations.

Poetry: Wade in the Water, by Tracy K. Smith

It is unusual for an acting American poet laureate to release a book, but Smith’s “Wade in the Water” has an urgency that thrilled critics. “Tracy K. Smith is a poet of astonishing gifts, never more brilliantly displayed than in ‘Wade in the Water,’” said juror Joyce Carol Oates. “With a simplicity and a clarity that belie the poet’s technical virtuosity, she explores, or rather eviscerates, our willful self-deceptions about race, history, the nature of ‘enslavement;’ her poems are sharp edged as knife blades, swift, deft, fleeting, and profound, yet suffused with sympathy, like an impersonal and abiding love.”
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