Emory poet and professor Jericho Brown wins prestigious Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

Emory Report | April 2, 2015

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Emory professor Jericho Brown has been honored with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his poetry collection "The New Testament," a meditation on race, masculinity and gay sexuality. Courtesy photo

Emory professor Jericho Brown is one of five winners of the 80th annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity. Brown, a poet and assistant professor of English and creative writing, was honored for his poetry collection "The New Testament," a meditation on race, masculinity and gay sexuality.

The Cleveland Foundation announced the awards April 1. Poet Rita Dove, one of the jurors for the award, describes Brown's poetry collection as "a reminder that outrage is a seductive disease — we would rather rage or weep than find a way to love in spite of the pain.

"Brown's poems brim with love for this damaged world without letting the world off the hook," Dove says.

The other 2015 Anisfield-Wolf winners are Marilyn Chin, "Hard Love Province," poetry; David Brion Davis, lifetime achievement; Richard S. Dunn, "A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia," nonfiction; and Marlon James, "A Brief History of Seven Killings," fiction.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, chairs the award selection jury, which includes novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker and historian Simon Schama in addition to Dove.

"The new Anisfield-Wolf winners heighten our perceptions on race and diversity," says Gates, also Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard. "This year, we honor groundbreaking research into the lives of specific families enslaved on two New World plantations, a tour-de-force fictional portrayal of Jamaica spun in multiple voices, poetry from both coasts that is erotic and grave, and the indispensable, morally towering scholarship of David Brion Davis."

Ronn Richard, Cleveland Foundation president and CEO, says the breadth of topics taken up by this year's winners is gratifying, and reflects founder and donor Edith Anisfield Wolf's belief in the power of the written word to elevate and enlighten.

"The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards rose from the philanthropic vision of one woman who realized that literature could advance our thinking and beliefs about race, culture, ethnicity, and our shared humanity," Richard notes. "We are proud to showcase books that are beautifully written and enhance the urgent, national – and local – conversations around race and cultural difference."

The Anisfield-Wolf winners will be honored Sept. 10 at a ceremony at the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland, hosted by the Cleveland Foundation and emceed by Gates.

Past winners include four writers who went on to win Nobel prizes: Nadine Gordimer, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka.