MLA 2020: Rooted Literature and the Anisfield-Wolf Canon


The Awards

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. For over 80 years, the distinguished books earning Anisfield-Wolf prizes have opened and challenged our minds.

Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf established the book prizes in 1935, in honor of her father, John Anisfield, and husband, Eugene Wolf, to reflect her family’s passion for issues of social justice. Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. 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.

The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, has administered the Anisfield-Wolf prize since 1963. Before then, the Saturday Review sponsored the awards. From the early 1960s until 1996, internationally renowned anthropologist and author Ashley Montagu chaired the awards jury. That panel of globally prominent scholars and writers has since been overseen by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor


About our panel:

In Simon E. Gikandi’s written introduction to the MLA’s 2020 Presidential Theme: “Being Human”, he invites members to profoundly consider the role of literature in shaping our perceptions of community:

What has been the role of the creative imagination in marking out the social spaces of what we call humanity? How has literature been called upon to bear witness to both the possibility and limits of the human in the modern world? How has the human condition been thought and written about in diverse historical periods and geographic spaces? Can literature and its criticism continue to inspire the desire for human freedom in an age of intolerance? What is the role of a diverse community of writers and readers in the thinking of the world and our relation to it?

Our roundtable directly addresses this theme by considering the powerful history of the locally-rooted, Cleveland-based Ansifield-Wolf canon, and the way in which the teaching of these works can revitalize, enliven, and make richer the humanities classroom. The organizers of this panel, Cleveland area professors committed to harnessing the strength of Edith Anisfield Wolf’s legacy in their own courses, directly explore Gikandi’s question about engaging in the public sphere: Does literature still have the capacity to transform the public sphere? How can we use our skills as teachers and critics to engage a public outside the university and secure the place of the humanities in a democratic culture?”

This roundtable will address how utilizing a local resource – rooted literature – can transform our approach to humanities education and encourage a practice of civic engagement in the Cleveland-area. We welcome abstracts from professors and graduate students who teach Anisfield-Wolf texts in their own classrooms, or comparative examples.

For more information, please write:

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