What do Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, Nicole Krauss’ The Great House, Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel all have in common? In addition to be wonderfully written, thought-provoking, and critically acclaimed, all five have been past recipients of the prestigious Ainsfield-Wolf Book Awards.
Started in 1935 by poet Edith Ainsfield Wolf, the awards honor books dealing with diversity and racism. The Ainsfield-Wolf Book Awards website states, “Past winners have presented the extraordinary art and culture of peoples around the world, explored human-rights violations, exposed the effects of racism on children, reflected on growing up biracial, and illuminated the dignity of people as they search for justice.”
It’s no coincidence that a literary award focused on addressing two serious and often contentious topics which tend to make a number of people uncomfortable has yet to receive the same amount of publicity and prestige as other mainstream literary awards such as the Man Booker Award or the National Book Award. It’s a shame; the importance of not only addressing subjects that are real and complex, but in artfully encouraging the discussion and exploration of the various nuances and impacts of diversity and racism on human lives is huge. We read literature for the experience of it; many of us read literature as a way of gaining whatever small bit of insight we can into lives so very different from our own. Many of us read literature in order to read about people like ourselves (which is, let’s face it, much easier to do if you’re heterosexual and white than, say, of mixed-race or Filipino or transgendered.) Both of these desires– to learn about others and to reflect on our own nature– are inexplicably intertwined with race and diversity.
Identity and literature go hand in hand. To honor books which challenge mainstream notions of race, or call attention to the blatant avoidance of diversity, is to give voice to that which is often silenced, denied, or ignored. #blacklivesmatter and We Need Diverse Books are powerful examples of this voice, and also potent reminders that there are a number of people out there who want and demand that issues of race and diversity be taken seriously because it matters.
So congratulations to the 2015 Ainsfield-Wolf Book Award Winners, and all of the past winners, too.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (fic)
- The New Testament by Jericho Brown (poetry)
- Hard Love Province by Marilyn Chin (poetry)
- A Tale of Two Plantations by Richard S. Dunn (non-fic)
- Lifetime achievement award: David Brion Davis