Anisfield-Wolf Fellowship

The Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellowship is one of many ways in which gifts can promote scholarship about race and diversity. If you're interested in learning how your gift can have this kind of impact, please contact Renee Ligon at 216-368-3646 or

Lisa Nielson

Lisa Nielson is a scholar and teacher whose interests span diverse cultures and historical periods. In undergraduate seminars she has led at Case Western Reserve, students have learned how women contributed to the musical life of a medieval Islamic empire. They have examined the institution of slavery in the ancient and modern worlds. They have seen how works of philosophy and science from various civilizations have addressed differences in human capabilities, behaviors and identities. In each instance, their encounters with unfamiliar traditions and ways of thinking have yielded insights into contemporary concerns.


Nielson’s courses are part of SAGES, the general education curriculum for all Case Western Reserve undergraduates. SAGES offers small, discussion-based classes that introduce students to the methods and perspectives of multiple disciplines. This approach is congenial to Nielson, who earned her doctorate in historical musicology with a concentration in women’s studies, and whose research areas include Arabic music from antiquity to the 13th century and global cultural studies.

SAGES has also given Nielson an ideal platform to explore issues surrounding diversity and difference. She was appointed in 2011 as the first Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow, with the goal of fostering “students’ understanding of racism and their appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures.” The position was created with support from the Cleveland Foundation, and its mission echoes that of a distinguished program the foundation has administered since 1963—the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.

Since assuming this role, Nielson has become a valued member of the SAGES faculty. Her seminars fill immediately when registration begins each term, and students consistently rank them among the most outstanding SAGES courses. In 2012, Nielson won the Richard A. Bloom, M.D., Award for Distinguished Teaching in the SAGES Program. Two years later, she was one of two recipients of the university’s Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Inspired in part by Nielson’s success, the Cleveland Foundation has now expanded its support for the program, making possible the appointment of a second Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow. Kaysha Corinealdi, a historian of migration and activism in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, assumed her duties this fall.

Associate Dean and SAGES Director Peter Whiting credits the expansion to Karen Long, manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and a strong proponent of the fellowship from the start.

“Working with Karen really has been a partnership,” Whiting says. “We have collaborated in imagining where this program could take us, and she has been joyful at the successes SAGES has had. When Lisa won the Wittke Award last year, Karen was as happy as we were.”

Whiting adds that Long has published essays by some of Nielson’s students on the Anisfield-Wolf website. “That’s wonderful for the students,” he says. “That their writing is given a third-party endorsement makes them very proud—and they should be proud of the work they have done.”

Discovering the Canon

Anisfield-Wolf fellows

The legacy sustained by the book awards, and now by the fellowship program, was initiated by Edith Anisfield Wolf (1889–1963), who attended the College for Women at Western Reserve University. The daughter of John Anisfield, an Austrian Jewish immigrant who prospered in the garment industry, she devoted her life to philanthropy and literature. She was one of the first female trustees of the Cleveland Public Library, and she provided support and leadership to other civic, cultural and charitable organizations. Fluent in several languages, she also published six volumes of poems she wrote in the downtown office where she managed her family’s estate.

In 1934, Edith Anisfield Wolf established an annual prize in her father’s memory to honor outstanding scholarly books on the subject of race relations in the contemporary world. Seven years later, on the jury’s recommendation, she created a second prize for literary works addressing this theme. In 1944, after the death of her husband, Eugene E. Wolf, she added his name to the title of the awards.

From the beginning, the program’s concerns were broader than the term “race relations” might suggest. To be sure, many of the winners have focused on the conditions of African American life. But Anisfield-Wolf juries have also honored books about ethnic, national and religious communities, as well as works examining the historical roots of current social ills.

Students visit Anisfield-Wolf Awards

Today, 80 years after the inaugural prize was announced, the list of Anisfield-Wolf Book Award-winners includes much of the most significant scholarship ever published on race and racism, the immigrant experience in the United States, the Holocaust, colonialism in Africa and freedom movements around the world. On the literary side, the list includes scores of acclaimed novelists, poets, memoirists and playwrights, including Sholem Asch, Ralph Ellison, Nadine Gordimer, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott and August Wilson.

Nielson and Corinealdi first learned of the awards when they read job postings for the fellowship, and they each remember their excitement as they scrolled through the roster of winners on the Anisfield-Wolf website. They already knew so many of the books. Moreover, their understanding of diversity, and of past and current struggles for civil rights and social justice, had been shaped by those books. Partly for this reason, Nielson says, “I had never wanted anything more than this job.”

Since then, she has discovered that the Anisfield-Wolf canon is equally compelling to her students, who engage in thoughtful, far-reaching discussions inspired by their reading. In a 2013 essay for the awards program’s website, Nielson wrote:

Listening to my students, I find a generation that thinks creatively about politics, gender, race, sexualities. . . . Their desire for inclusion and capacity for acceptance astonishes me; they inspire me to think more fluidly about myself. They have changed me profoundly as a teacher and as a human being.

Edith Anisfield Wolf created the book awards to recognize literature dedicated to fostering conversations about tolerance and cultural acceptance. Through these books and my students, I am constantly working to hear what I think was her real message: Listen.

This academic year, the two Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellows will lead a total of seven seminars. Some will be based entirely on the work of winning authors. For Corinealdi, part of the appeal of designing such courses lies in pairing historical writing with fiction and poetry, so that students can shift between a scholarly perspective and the more personal vision of imaginative literature.

In addition to her SAGES duties, Nielson will be engaged in bringing the themes of the Anisfield-Wolf program—and the books themselves—into classrooms and curricula beyond the university. This work is aligned with efforts by Long to attract new readers through a variety of school and community programs.

Nielson will continue her involvement in several campus initiatives as well. Since 2012, she has led a series of informal discussion groups that address issues surrounding race, gender and difference. She has also contributed to New Student Orientation programs, and worked with student organizations, to stimulate dialogue about diversity and inclusion.

For her part, Corinealdi has eagerly begun sharing the work of Anisfield-Wolf Book Award-winners with her students. “I made a point of including as many authors in the syllabus as possible—a lot of short stories and essays, some poetry,” she says. “And I tell the students: ‘If there are one or two authors that you find yourself enthralled by, I want you to read more of their books, and make that reading a part of your academic growth.’”

Like everyone associated with the book awards, Corinealdi is eager to let people know that “good, provocative work is out there.” In society at large, she says, “We don’t have enough spaces where we’re talking about it.” But in the university’s SAGES program, there are more spaces now.

Article from Fall | Winter 2015 edition of art | sci magazine
"EXPANDING THE ANISFIELD-WOLF LEGACY: With the Cleveland Foundation’s support, discussions of diversity and difference enrich undergraduate education at CWRU"
By Arthur Evenchick