Matthew Delmont Receives Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

The Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History received a national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and explores diversity.

Matthew Delmont, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History, has received a 2023 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, a national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and explores diversity. 

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, chairs the awards jury. Joining him in selecting the winners each year are poet Rita Dove, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, psychologist Steven Pinker, and historian Simon Schama.

Delmont was selected for his critically acclaimed book, Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad, which illuminates Black Americans' heroism during the war and experience of racism. The other 2023 Anisfield-Wolf recipients are Geraldine Brooke (fiction), Lan Samantha Chang (fiction), Charlayne Hunter-Gault (lifetime achievement), and Saeed Jones (poetry). 


Half American book cover

"These remarkable books deliver groundbreaking insights on race and diversity," Gates said. "This year, we honor a profound and funny novel centered in a Chinese restaurant, a brilliant story of 19th-century horseracing with contemporary echoes, a stunning poetry collection that captures who we are now, and a meticulous history that recasts our understanding of World War II. All are capped by the lifetime achievement of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who remade this country with her courage and her nuanced reporting."

"The role of African Americans in World War II rewrites our understanding of 'the greatest generation' in the 'good war,' given the shocking discrimination and harassment of millions of patriots willing to risk their lives in it," Pinker said of Delmont's book. "The tension between the America-vs-fascism clash and the white-America-vs-Black-America clash highlights the way in which humans belong to multiple overlapping coalitions, and how a recognition of these contradictions can lead to moral and historical shifts." 

Past winners of Anisfield-Wolf awards, which are overseen by the Ohio-based Cleveland Foundation, include seven writers who later won Nobel prizes—Ralph J. Bunche, Nadine Gordimer, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Gunnar Myrdal, Wole Soyinka, and Derek Walcott. They are among the 262 recipients of the prize. 

Half American is Delmont's first trade book, and he wrote it with "everyday readers" in mind. The book has received praise from PBS, NPR, and The New York Times, among many other national outlets. Delmont has presented insights from the book at such major institutions as the New York Public Library and the National Museum of the United States Army, and he recently donated 2,500 copies of the book to public high school teachers across the country. 

A Guggenheim fellow and expert on African American history and the history of civil rights, Delmont is the author of four previous books: Black Quotidian, Why Busing Failed, Making Roots, and The Nicest Kids in Town. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post, in addition to many academic journals. At Dartmouth, he serves as associate dean of international and interdisciplinary studies, in addition to his professorship in the history department.

Karen Long, manager of the book awards at the Cleveland Foundation, noted the prescience of philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf in founding the prize in 1935. "Her notion that literature can ignite justice is valid nearly 90 years later, and we are honored to add the 2023 winners to the canon," Long said. "We are proud that the newest books tackle the toughest topics and insist on ways forward."