Shelley Fisher Fishkin wrote to tell me what I’d already heard from other sources – Publishers Weekly, among them. Arnold Rampersad, the award-winning biographer of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, has won the 77th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, widely recognized as a highly prestigious prize. It’s the only juried literary competition devoted to recognizing books that have made an important contribution to society’s understanding of racism and the diversity of human cultures.
It tops a very good year for the author and literary critic: President Obama awarded him a National Humanities Medal last year.
Rampersad has already won a previous award with the organization, when the first volume of The Life of Langston Hughes, published in 1986, won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction in 1987. Volume Two, published in 1988, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1989.
His other award-winning books have profiled W.E.B. Du Bois, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Ellison. He has also edited critical editions of the works of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes.
Shelley, who co-edited Oxford University Press’ Race and American Culture series with the prizewinner from 1993 to 2003, called the new award “really special. … a major honor that is very well-deserved.”
He’s in especially good company now. The Lifetime Achievement award has recognized some of the most widely-respected and influential writers and artists of our time. Past winners include poet Derek Walcott; playwright August Wilson; fiction writers Ernest Gaines, Dorothy West, William Melvin Kelley, Paule Marshall, and John Edgar Wideman; photographer Gordon Parks; writer and critic Albert Murray; and historian John Hope Franklin.
Here’s what Shelley said:
An extraordinarily elegant writer, a meticulous researcher, and a scholar gifted with the ability to focus on what matters most about any subject that he tackles, Arnold Rampersad richly deserves this honor.
His biographies and his literary scholarship have had an enormous impact on our understanding of American culture, illuminating issues of race and racism in America in groundbreaking, crucial ways. He has been a role model for generations of scholars in American Studies, English, and African American Studies. I congratulate the Anisfield-Wolf jury for recognizing his important contributions to the cultural conversation with this award.
New award for Rampersad tops an exceptional year – not only for him personally, but for a number of other folks in Stanford’s English and Creative Writing Department. I wrote about that here.