Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift has been awarded the 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, one of US’ top awards that seek to contribute to the understanding of race, racism and human diversity.

The Zambian-American author who was most recently announced one of the honorees of the Windham-Campbell Prize, was unveiled winner in the Fiction category.

The other awardees include American historian Eric Foner for ‘Lifetime Achievement’, editor & poet Ilya Kaminsky for ‘Poetry’, and author Charles King for ‘Non-fiction’.

Speaking of the 2020 winners, Henry Louis Gates who chaired the judging panel said: “The new Anisfield-Wolf winners bring us fresh insights on race and diversity. This year, we honor a brilliant, breakout novel that centers Zambia, a book of political poetry 15 years in the making and a riveting history documenting a revolution in Western thought. All is capped by the lifetime achievement of Eric Foner, who has remade our understanding of the Civil War and especially its aftermath.”

Now in its 85th year, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award is annually awarded to an outstanding written work that confronts racism and explores diversity. Previous African winners in fiction include Alan Paton for Cry, the Beloved Country in 1949, Nadine Gordimer for A Sport of Nature in 1988, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun in 2007, and Esi Edugyan for Half-Blood Blues in 2012. Kwame Anthony Appiah won the Non-fiction award in 1993 for In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture and  Nobel Laurette Wole Soyinka received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

The winners will be honored on October 1 in the Connor Palace Theatre in Cleveland, hosted by the Cleveland Foundation and emceed by Jury Chair Gates. The ceremony will be part of the fifth annual Cleveland Book Week slated for Sept. 27-Oct. 4.


Brittle Paper congratulates Namwali Serpell.