The 10 winners of the 34th annual Whiting Awards were named last night in a ceremony featuring a keynote by author Adam Johnson, winner of the 2009 Whiting Award, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction. Based on “early-career achievement and the promise of superior literary work to come,” the annual prize gives $50,000 each to 10 emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.
“Every year, our corps of expert anonymous nominators point us to some of the most exciting and vital work happening today,” Courtney Hodell, the Whiting Foundation’s director of literary programs, said in a statement. “These names may be new to us, but they’re writing the future of literature in this country.”
The fiction recipients are:
Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance (And a Year in Reading alum)Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People (Featured in various 2018 Year in Reading entries)Merritt Tierce, author of Love Me Back
The drama recipients are:
Michael R. Jackson, playwright of the forthcoming musical A Strange LoopLauren Yee, playwright of Ching Chong Chinaman.
In his keynote, Johnson spoke on the dying tradition of observation of the world around us in the era of earbuds and ubiquitous screens. “The literary arts have always excavated memory, topographized terrain, resurrected voices,” he said. “But the times are changing. I believe we now need writers not only to show us the realm behind the curtain, but the one before our very eyes.” He added, “Is the world too much? Too much to gaze directly upon?…Perhaps the delamination of life is too much to bear…All the more reason why we need writers to take our hands and say, ‘Look! See what I see.'”
Previous winners of the award, which was first bestowed in 1985, prove the point. That list includes Colson Whitehead, Denis Johnson, Tracy K. Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, August Wilson, Lydia Davis, David Foster Wallace, Suzan-Lori Parks, Michael Cunningham, Z.Z. Packer, Mary Karr, Jonathan Franzen, Tony Kushner, Alice McDermott, Terrance Hayes, Jorie Graham, Deborah Eisenberg, Anthony Marra, Ben Fountain, Yiyun Lee, Tyehimba Jess, Justin Cronin, Alexander Chee, Jericho Brown, Adam Johnson, Elif Batuman, John Jeremiah Sullivan.
More recent winners include Tommy Pico, Catherine Lacey, Tony Tulathimutte, Lucas Hnath, Esmé Weijun Wang, Lisa Halliday, Layli Long Soldier, Ocean Vuong, Francisco Cantú, Weike Wang, and Antoinette Nwandu.
The honorees are chosen by an anonymous panel of six judges.
It’s been a long 2017. So much of being a poet as I understand it is about maintaining a permeability to wonder, and that’s been difficult work in a year spent in the long shadow of a fascistic regime, a year in which the earth has grown increasingly desperate in its attempts to warn us about the damage we’re doing to it.
The (perhaps feeble ((but noble))) balm—a year of books, richer than any I can recall. It’s like the world of poetry knew we’d need it to rise up and carry us, to orient us toward our livable tomorrows. Poets are watchers, wonderers. And they have the magical ability to make us realer than we can make ourselves. Elizabeth Alexander writes: “We are of interest to one another, are we not?” I like thinking of poems as little empathy tablets, granting us access to (and compassion for) lived experiences unlike any we’ll ever know firsthand.
Here are some new books (mostly poetry, listed in no particular order) from the past year that have helped me wander and wonder from one day into the next:
Frank Bidart – Half-Light
Anaïs Duplan – Mount Carmel & the Blood of Parnassus
Marwa Helal – I Am Made to Leave I Am Made to Return
Traci Brimhall – Saudade
Layli Long Soldier – Whereas
Rachel McKibbens – blud
Sahar Muradi – [Gates]
Steph Burt – Advice from the Lights
Maggie Smith – Good Bones
Cait Weiss Orcutt – Valleyspeak
Nuar Alsadir – Fourth Person Singular
Nicole Tong – How to Prove a Theory
Craig Morgan Teicher – The Trembling Answers
Nicole Sealey – Ordinary Beast
Danez Smith – Don’t Call Us Dead
sam sax – Madness
Javier Zamora – Unaccompanied
Marcus Wicker – Silencer
Alex Dimitrov – Together and By Ourselves
Ruth Awad – Set to Music a Wildfire
Bill Knott – Selected Poems
William Brewer – I Know Your Kind
Morgan Parker – There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé
Carl Phillips – Wild Is the Wind
Marie Howe – Magdalene
Ghayath Almadhoun – Adrenalin
Patricia Smith – Incendiary Arts
Tyree Daye – River Hymns
Gabrielle Calvocoressi – Rocket Fantastic
Mai Der Vang – Afterland
Sarah Browning – Killing Summer
Alessandra Lynch – Daylily Called it a Dangerous Moment
Adrian Matejka – Map to the Stars
Finn Menzies – Brilliant Odyssey Don’t Yearn
Eve L. Ewing – Electric Arches
Shane McCrae – In the Language of My Captor
Ghassan Zaqtan (trans. by Fady Joudah) – The Silence that Remains
Franny Choi – Death By Sex Machine
Laura Kasischke – Where Now: New and Selected Poems
Megan Stielstra – The Wrong Way to Save Your Life
Hanif Abdurraqib – They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us
Melissa Febos – Abandon Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates – We Were Eight Years in Power
Alissa Nutting – Made for Love
Roxane Gay – Hunger
Kevin Young – Bunk
Wendy Xu – Phrasis
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