The 86th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

Premieres at 9 p.m. on Tuesday September 14, 2021 on WVIZ.


Ideastream Public Media highlights the 2021 winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, and their important work, in a one-hour television special debuting Sept. 14. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is the only national juried prize recognizing literature that has made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity.  

This is the second year in which the awards ceremony could not be held in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the second year in which Ideastream Public Media has produced a broadcast that celebrates the winners and allows audiences to come to understand their work and their motivations.

The program is hosted by the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer and editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Chairman of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards jury, and host of the popular PBS show Finding Your Roots. The show includes profiles and visits to the hometowns of the 2021 honorees, along with readings by the authors of excerpts from their books.

Viewers will travel to Torrance, California to meet Victoria Chang, who is being honored for her haunting book of poems, Obit. It was the death of her mother in 2015 that inspired this collection of poems, which are constructed in the form of obituaries.  She writes obits not just for people, including herself, but for other things that are lost, including appetite, language and control.

In Cambridge, Mass. we hear about what motivated historian Vincent Brown to write Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War. The award-winning book details a strategic political revolt orchestrated by enslaved West Africans in Jamaica in the 18th century.  It was the largest slave revolt in the 18th Century British Atlantic world.

Former two-time United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey invites us to Evanston, Ill., where she is a professor of English at Northwestern University, to discuss her memoir, Memorial Drive. It’s about an experience and a place far removed from Evanston. Trethewey, the mixed-race daughter of an ambitious Black mother who was murdered by her stepfather in 1985, turns personal wounds into beautiful words as she recounts her life growing up in the Deep South.

In a church in Brooklyn, New York, not unlike the fictional Five Points Baptist Church at the center of Deacon King Kong, we meet James McBride, the celebrated author who paints a vivid portrait of a 1969 New York City housing project most people might only see while driving by. Brooklyn is McBride’s hometown and the characters in Deacon King Kong are all drawn from those he’s known and loved his whole life: Church ladies, drug dealers, Mafia men, Irish cops and would-be assassins.

This year’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement goes to Samuel R. Delany for a career spanning nearly 60 years during which he has penned memoirs, novels, literary criticism and personal essays. We’ll visit Philadelphia to hear from this revered author, who is considered a foundational figure in the genre of science fiction, but also is a fearless pioneer of gay literature.

The broadcast will premiere at 9 p.m. on Tuesday September 14, 2021 on WVIZ/PBS and will be available on ideastream.org for on-demand viewing.

Funding for the Ideastream Public Media production of The 86th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is provided by the Cleveland Foundation. 

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