Ilya Kaminsky Wins Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for ‘Deaf Republic’
By Michael Pearson
Georgia Institute of Technology poetry Professor Ilya Kaminsky has won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry for his latest book, Deaf Republic.
“We are exceptionally honored to connect Deaf Republic to our 85-year history, and a canon that includes five writers who went on to win Nobel Prizes: Gunnar Myrdal, Nadine Gordimer, Martin Luther King Jr., Wole Soyinka and Toni Morrison, plus one — Derek Walcott — who won our Lifetime Achievement prize after his Nobel,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the award for The Cleveland Foundation.
The Anisfield-Wolf Awards “recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity," according to the organization’s website.
“It feels strange to be celebrating at such bewildering, sad time,” Kaminsky said. “But I am beyond grateful and am stunned to receive this year's Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry. I have always so admired the work of the judges, so it is very humbling to know that they have read my book. The mission and history of Anisfield-Wolf is especially important for me, so it a huge honor to be associated with it.”
Kaminsky is the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne Jr. Chair in Poetry in the School of Literature, Media and Communication and is director of the Poetry@Tech program, which engages Georgia Tech students and the public, and presents the South’s premier poetry reading series. He joined Georgia Tech in 2018, 25 years after coming to the United States with his family as political aslyees from Russia.
Deaf Republic is inspired by his experience navigating his youth in the Soviet Union as a person living with hearing impairment. It follows the lives of ordinary citizens living in an occupied country who go deaf the moment a boy with a hearing impairment is shot and killed by soldiers. It is at once a fairy tale, an exploration of language in a time of crisis, and an intensely political text that questions indifference to oppression and violence.
“Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic continues to haunt me,” said poet Rita Dove, one of the jurors for the award. “It’s a parable that comes to life and refuses to die.”
The jury also included author, filmmaker, critic and Harvard University professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates; author Joyce Carol Oates; psychologist and author Steven Pinker; and Columbia University historian Simon Schama.
This is not the first award for Deaf Republic. The book received the 2019 National Jewish Book Award and also was a finalist for the Forward Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize and the National Book Award in 2019.
Kaminsky was the first non U.S.-born refugee poet to be named finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry, according to the National Book Foundation.
The School of Literature, Media, and Communication is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.