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Ursuline College professor awarded grant to teach the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards canon on racism and injustice

November 02, 2018

Ursuline College has been awarded a grant from the Modern Language Association (MLA) for a professor to develop an English course based on the spirit, literature, and activities of Cleveland’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.

“This new course will help Ursuline College students see connections between literature and the problems and triumphs in the history of Cleveland,” said Assistant Professor Katharine Trostel, PhD.

Trostel was one of five grant winners from among more than 80 professors nationwide who applied for the MLA’s humanities innovation course development grant. “I am thrilled to have received this award from the MLA. It will enable students to connect with the local community, the study of inequality and the legacy of award founder Edith Anisfield Wolf.”

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is the only juried prize in the nation for books that confront racism and celebrate diversity. Rooted in the idea that literature is a vehicle for social justice, the award brings renowned authors and scholars to the city to explore globally and locally important themes such as race and identity.

Before applying for the grant, Trostel met with Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Manager Karen R. Long and attended a seminar Long hosted for Northeast Ohio professors. “It was clear that the Cleveland Foundation, which administers the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, wants to promote learning on campus,” Trostel said.

“This is a historic threshold for us,” said Long, ”and we reached it because Professor Trostel devised an innovative way to take a local asset – the Anisfield-Wolf canon – and turn it into a tool for students trying to understand the predicament of racial segregation here,” Long said. “This is a first in attracting outside funding into the college classroom to explore Anisfield-Wolf literature.”

Trostel titled her course-development project “From Rustbelt to Revival: Exploring the legacy of segregation, inequality, and social justice in Cleveland through the lens of the Anisfield-Wolf canon.”

“In a rustbelt city like Cleveland, a city of neighborhoods marred by a history of segregation and uneven decline, these themes are of special significance,” she said.

In the new course – which Trostel will develop during spring 2019 semester and teach for the first time in fall 2019 semester – students will read Anisfield-Wolf-recognized books, meet the authors who come to Cleveland for the annual awards ceremony, and enliven and contemporize the works through the digital humanities. This will involve using digital mapping platforms to analyze and contextualize the literature and creating a public-facing digital exhibit.

The goals of Trostel’s course align with the mission of Ursuline College, which is committed to social justice, and with the goals of the MLA grant, to “build enrollments and revitalize student interest in the humanities.” 

In announcing the grant, MLA Executive Director Paula M. Krebs wrote to Trostel, “The selection committee was impressed by your project’s innovative and collaborative nature and its potential to positively impact interest in the humanities.”

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