Ten Promising Writers Receive Whiting Awards

November 6, 2008
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November 6 – November 13, 2008 Edition

Ten Promising
Writers Receive
Whiting Awards

NEW YORK, NY (Authorlink News, November 6, 2008)–The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation last week named ten recipients of the 2008 Whiting Writers’ Awards.  The awards, which are $50,000 each, totaling $500,000, have been given annually since 1985 to writers of exceptional talent and promise in early career.

Since its inception, the program has awarded more than $6 million to 240 poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, and playwrights.  Among the past recipients who have achieved acclaim and prominence in their field are Denis Johnson, Jorie Graham, Kim Edwards, William T. Vollman, Sarah Ruhl, Mark Doty, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, and Colson Whitehead.

This year’s winners – three of whom have yet to publish their first books – represent an array of styles and backgrounds. There are five fiction writers, three poets, one nonfiction writer and one playwright.

"It’s a great pleasure to see what fine work is coming out of this year’s group of award recipients, in all its variousness and vigor," said Barbara Bristol, the Director of the Writers’ Program.  "These writers are strikingly well-traveled in imagination if not in fact.  We expect we will hear from them again and again in the years to come."

The 2008 recipients were announced at a ceremony at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York on Wednesday, October 29.  Dr. Robert L. Belknap, President of the Foundation, and trustee Kate Douglas Torrey presented the ten writers with their awards.

The keynote speaker of the evening was distinguished fiction and nonfiction writer Barry Lopez.  He is the author of Arctic Dreams, which won the National Book Award in 1986, Of Wolves and Men, which was a Finalist for the National Book Award in 1979, Resistance, and Light Action in the Caribbean, among other works.  A life-long study of the human relationship to the natural world has brought him most recently to edit a compendium, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (Trinity University Press).  His essays are collected in two books, Crossing Open Ground and About This Life.   He lives in western Oregon.

The ten writers recognized this year for their extraordinary talent and promise are:

Mischa Berlinski, fiction.  His first novel, Fieldwork, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. He is at work on a second novel and living in Haiti.

Rick Hilles, poetry.  His first collection, Brother Salvage, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. He is an assistant professor in the MFA Program at Vanderbilt University and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Donovan Hohn, nonfiction.  His essays have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Agni, The Bedford Reader, and Internazionale. His first book will be published by Viking in 2010.

Douglas Kearney, poetry.  He is the author of Fear, Some (Red Hen Press, 2006) and the forthcoming collection, The Black Automaton, which will be published by Fence Books in 2009.  He has an MFA in writing from the California Institute of the Arts, where he now teaches. 

Laleh Khadivi, fiction.  Her first book, The Age of Orphans, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2009.  She is currently the fiction fellow at Emory University in Atlanta.

Manuel Muñoz, fiction.  He is the author of two collections of short stories, Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press, 2003) and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (Algonquin Books, 2007).  He lives in Tucson, where he is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.

Dael Orlandersmith, plays.  Her plays include Yellowman, The Gimmick and her Obie-Award winning Beauty’s Daughter, in which she also starred.  She is currently an artist-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College and is at work on a memoir..

Benjamin Percy, fiction.  He is the author of two short story collections, The Language of Elk (Carnegie Mellon, 2006) and Refresh, Refresh (Graywolf, 2008).  He teaches in the MFA program at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

Julie Sheehan, poetry.  She is the author of two collections of poems, Thaw (Fordham University Press, 2001), and Orient Point (Norton, 2006).  She teaches in the graduate Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton and lives in East Quogue, New York.

Lysley Tenorio, fiction.   He has recently completed a collection of short stories and is working on a novel.  He lives in San Francisco and teaches at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California.

More detailed biographies of the winners are below.

Whiting Writers’ Awards candidates are proposed by about a hundred anonymous nominators from across the country whose experience and vocations give them knowledge about individuals of extraordinary talent.  Winners are chosen by a small anonymous selection committee of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors, appointed annually by the Foundation.  At four meetings over the course of the year, the selectors discuss the candidates’ work and gradually winnow the list.  They then recommend up to ten writers for awards to the Foundation’s Trustees.  The Foundation accepts nominations only from the designated nominators.

The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation was established in 1963 by Flora E. Whiting.  In 1972, her unrestricted bequest of over $10 million enabled the Foundation to establish the Whiting Fellowships in the Humanities for doctoral candidates in their dissertation year.  In the years since, the Foundation has annually awarded grants to Bryn Mawr, University of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale to fund these Fellowships, the recipients of which are selected by each institution.  The Foundation created the Whiting Writers’ Awards in 1985 under the direction of Gerald Freund, who organized and led the program until his death in 1997. 

To learn more about the Whiting Foundation and the selection process for the Whiting Writers’ Awards visit the website at: www.whitingfoundation.org.

 

2008 Whiting Awards

                                    Mischa Berlinski
While working in Thailand as a journalist, Mischa Berlinski began to write a history of the Lisu people’s conversion to Christianity when the book unexpectedly veered off into fiction to become Fieldwork  (FSG, 2007), his first novel.  A finalist for the National Book Award, Fieldwork is set in Northern Thailand and narrated by a fictional reporter, Mischa Berlinski, who becomes obsessed with the story of a woman anthropologist who has murdered a missionary. Born in New York, Mr. Berlinski studied classics at Berkeley and Columbia.  Until recently, he has lived in Italy, but is now in Haiti, where his wife is a lawyer with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission.  He is working on a new novel, to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2011, entitled Peacekeeping.

                                       Rick Hilles
Rick Hilles’s first poetry collection, Brother Salvage, won the 2005 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press) and was named the 2006 Poetry Book of the Year by ForeWord magazine. The title poem concerns one Holocaust survivor’s story and how it enables another to discover his brother’s fate. Mr. Hilles has been an Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholar, a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the Ruth and Jay C. Halls Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also received the Larry Levis Editor’s Prize in Poetry from the Missouri Review. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, and Witness. Born in Canton, Ohio, he now lives in Nashville where he is an assistant professor in the MFA Program at Vanderbilt University.

                                  Donovan Hohn
Essayist Donovan Hohn was born and raised in San Francisco, and now lives in New York City, where he was for a time a high school English teacher at Friends Seminary.  He holds a BA from Oberlin, an MA in fiction from Boston University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan.  A contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, he has published four long essays there:  "Falling:  Confessions of a lapsed forest Christian,"  "Moby-Duck, or the synthetic wilderness of childhood,"  "A Romance of Rust:  Nostalgia, progress, and the meaning of tools," and most recently, "Through the Open Door:  Searching for deadly toys in China’s Pearl River Delta."   Other work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Agni, The Bedford Reader, and the Italian magazine Internazionale, which translated and reprinted "Moby-Duck." That essay was also selected for The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2 (W. W. Norton.) and will be the centerpiece of his first book, which Viking plans to publish in 2010.

                                      Douglas Kearney
Douglas Kearney’s first full-length collection of poems, Fear, Some, was published in 2006 by Red Hen Press.  His second book, The Black Automaton, was chosen by Catherine Wagner for the National Poetry Series and will be published by Fence Books in 2009.  Also a librettist, he has collaborated with the composer Anne LeBaron on the opera "Sucktion", which received a MAP Fund grant and premiered at the New Original Works Festival in Los Angeles in 2008, and on "Mordake" with composer Erling Wold, which premiered in 2008 at the San Francisco International Arts Festival.   A Cave Canem and an Idyllwild fellow, Mr. Kearney has performed his poetry at the Public Theatre, Orpheum, and The World Stage. His poems have appeared in journals such as Callaloo, jubilat, Ninth Letter, Washington Square and Gulf Coast. Born in Brooklyn, now living in California’s San Fernando Valley, he has a BA from Howard University and an MFA in Writing from the California Institute of the Arts, where he now teaches courses in African American poetry, myth, hip hop and opera.

                                     Laleh Khadivi
Laleh Khadivi’s first book, The Age of Orphans, is a historical novel set in Iran during the first Shah’s ascent to power. It follows the life of a Kurdish boy whose family is killed by the armies of the Shah as part of a ‘modernizing effort’ and who is then adopted into those same armies and taught to kill his own people. This is the first book in a trilogy that follows the lives of three generations of Kurdish men and will be published by Bloomsbury in March.  Born in Esfahan, Iran, Ms. Khadivi is of Kurdish and Persian heritage, has lived in a variety of countries, and now calls the United States home. Previously, she was a documentary filmmaker and directed 900 Women, a film about incarcerated women in Louisiana, and produced a number of other films that focused on the criminal justice system. She has a BA from Reed College and an MFA from Mills College and is currently the fiction fellow at Emory University in Atlanta.

                                        Manuel Muñoz
  Manuel Muñoz grew up in Dinuba, a small town in the Central Valley of California, much like the setting for the short stories in his two collections, Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press, 2003) and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (Algonquin Books, 2007), a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His work has been published in magazines such as Epoch, Swink, Glimmer Train  The Boston Review, and in the New York Times, and has aired on NPR’s Selected Shorts. A graduate of Harvard University, with an MFA in creative writing from Cornell University, Mr. Muñoz is a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Foundation for the Arts. He lives in Tucson, where he is currently Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.

                                   Dael Orlandersmith
  Dael Orlandersmith’s plays include Yellowman, The Gimmick and her Obie-Award winning Beauty’s Daughter, in which she also starred. She has toured with the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (Real Live Poetry) throughout the world and has had plays produced at the McCarter, the Wilma, New York Theatre Workshop, and Manhattan Theatre Club.  Her most recent productions are Bones, commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum, and the upcoming The Blue Album, a collaboration with David Cale for the Long Wharf Theatre, and Suicide Girlz, commissioned by the Atlantic Theatre.  Her awards include a Guggenheim, a Pen/Laura Pels Foundation Award and a Lucille Lortel Playwrights Fellowship.  For Yellowman, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and, as an actress in that play, she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award.   Her collected plays have recently been published by Vintage and are also available singly from the Dramatists Play Service. She is an artist-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence College and is at work on a memoir called Character.

                                  Benjamin Percy
  The Language of Elk (Carnegie Mellon, 2006) and Refresh, Refresh (Graywolf, 2008) are the two story collections by Benjamin Percy.  Originally from the high desert of central Oregon, the setting for many of his stories, he received his BA from Brown and MFA from Southern Illinois University.  He now teaches in the MFA program at Iowa State University.  His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Men’s Journal, Glimmer Train, the Chicago Tribune, and he is a regular contributor to Esquire.  The title story from his second collection–about the adolescent boys of a small town whose fathers have gone off to the Iraq War–won the Plimpton Prize when it appeared in The Paris Review,  and it was subsequently anthologized in Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize.  He is finishing a novel, entitled The Wilding, scheduled for publication in 2009 by Graywolf.

                                 Julie Sheehan
Julie Sheehan’s poetry is collected in Thaw (Fordham University Press, 2001), for which she was awarded the Poets Out Loud Prize, and Orient Point (Norton, 2006), winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize. She was also a recipient of The Paris Review’s Bernard F. Conners Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Prize.  Ms. Sheehan’s poems have appeared in Parnassus, Raritan, Salmagundi, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Southwest Review, Kenyon Review and Yale Review, among others, and her work has been anthologized, most recently in The Best American Poetry and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, edited by Billy Collins.   Born and raised in Pierson, Iowa, Ms. Sheehan graduated from Yale with a B.A. and earned an M.F.A. in poetry from Columbia. She now teaches in the MFA in Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton and lives in East Quogue, New York.

                                   Lysley Tenorio
The stories in Lysley Tenorio’s recently completed collection draw on the lives of first generation Filipino immigrants in California.  Some of these stories have appeared in Ploughshares, the Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, and Manoa.   Two were anthologized in The Pushcart Prize and Best New American Voices and another won a Nelson Algren Short Story Award.  Born in the Philippines, Mr. Tenorio is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and the MFA program at the University of Oregon.  He has been a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford, a John Steinbeck fellow at San Jose State University, and has had fellowships as well from the NEA, the University of Wisconsin, Phillips Exeter Academy, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. He currently teaches at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga and lives in San Francisco where he is working on a novel.

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