Elizabeth Alexander honored for lifetime achievement in poetry

The Cleveland Foundation has awarded an Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry to Elizabeth Alexander, professor and chair of African American studies and professor of American studies and English.

The prize was established 75 years ago by Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf, who believed that race relations was the most critical issue facing the nation. It is the only juried American literary competition devoted to recognizing books that have made an important contribution to society’s understanding of racism and the diversity of human cultures.

A noted poet and essayist, Alexander delivered one of her most recent poems, “Praise Song for the Day,” at the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. She has published five books of poems, beginning with “The Venus Hottentot” in 1990. Her collection “American Sublime” was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist. In 2007 Alexander won the first Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers, and she has received two Pushcart Prizes. Her collections of essays include “The Black Interior and Power and Possibility.

Also honored this year were Kamila Shamsie, “Burnt Shadows,” Fiction; William Julius Wilson, Lifetime Achievement in Non-fiction; and Oprah Winfrey, Lifetime Achievement.

“The 2010 Anisfield-Wolf winners are among the most influential voices in today’s global society, challenging conventional thinking and prodding us to think beyond what we believe to be true,” said Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of the prize jury. “In celebrating the 75th anniversary of this internationally renowned prize, it is appropriate to look beyond singular works and recognize writers and thinkers who, over time, have opened our minds to the possibilities of more than our individual place in societies, but our individual places in the world.”

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