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G&A: The Contest Blog

Last night at an award ceremony in London, Indian American writer Akhil Sharma was announced the winner of the 2015 Folio Prize for his second novel Family Life. He will receive £40,000 (approximately $59,500). The annual award is given for an English-language book of fiction published in the United Kingdom in the previous year.

“From a shortlist of which we are enormously proud, Akhil Sharma’s lucid, compassionate, quietly funny account of one family’s life across continents and cultures, emerged as our winner,” said chair of judges William Fiennes. “Family Life is a masterful novel of distilled complexity: about catastrophe and survival; attachment and independence; the tension between selfishness and responsibility. We loved its deceptive simplicity and rare warmth. More than a decade in the writing, this is a work of art that expands with each re-reading and a novel that will endure.” The prize was judged by Fiennes, Rachel Cooke, Mohsin Hamid, A. M. Homes, and Deborah Levy.

Sharma is the author of one previous novel, An Obedient Father. Born in Delhi and raised in New Jersey, Sharma spent nearly thirteen years writing the semi-autobiographical Family Life. The novel chronicles the story of Ajay, whose family immigrates from Dehli to New York in the 1970s and struggles to cope with an accident that leaves Ajay’s brother brain-damaged.

The finalists for the prize were Rachel Cusk for Outline (FSG); Ben Lerner for 10:04 (Faber & Faber); Jenny Offill for Dept. of Speculation (Knopf); Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor for Dust (Knopf); Ali Smith for How to Be Both (Pantheon); Miriam Toews for All My Puny Sorrows (McSweeney’s); and Colm Tóibín for Nora Webster (Scribner). The finalists were selected from a list of eighty books—twenty of which were nominated by publishers, and sixty of which were nominated by the Folio Prize Academy, an international group of 235 writers and critics.

Now in its second year, the Folio Prize is the first major English-language book prize open to writers from around the world. (The Man Booker Prize only expanded to include writers of any nationality in 2014.) American writer George Saunders won the inaugural Folio Prize for his short story collection Tenth of December (Random House).

Acclaimed novelist Louise Erdrich has been named the recipient of the 2015 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, given annually to an American fiction writer whose “body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but for its originality of thought and imagination.” A panel of distinguished literary critics and authors recommended Erdrich to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who then selected Erdrich as this year’s winner.

Erdrich, 60, is the author of fourteen novels, including Love Medicine (HarperCollins, 1984), The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (HarperCollins, 2001), The Plague of Doves (HarperCollins, 2009), and, most recently, The Round House (HarperCollins 2013), which won the National Book Award for fiction. Over her thirty-year career, Erdrich has received numerous awards and accolades, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. Born to a German-American father and a half French-American, half Ojibwe mother, much of Erdrich’s writing centers on Native American history.

In his announcement on Tuesday, Billington said of Erdrich: “Throughout a remarkable string of virtuosic novels, Louise Erdrich has portrayed her fellow Native Americans as no contemporary American novelist ever has, exploring—in intimate and fearless ways—the myriad cultural challenges that indigenous and mixed-race Americans face. In this, her prose manages to be at once lyrical and gritty, magical yet unsentimental, connecting a dreamworld of Ojibwe legend to stark realities of the modern-day. And yet, for all the bracing originality of her work, her fiction is deeply rooted in the American literary tradition.”

Erdrich will receive the award during the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival on September 5.

Now in its third year, the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction “seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that—throughout long, consistently accomplished careers—have told us something new about the American experience.” E. L. Doctorow was awarded the prize in 2014 and Don DeLillo won the inaugural prize in 2013. The award was inspired by the former Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award, which was previously given to Herman Wouk in 2008, John Grisham in 2009, Isabel Allende in 2010, Toni Morrison in 2011, and Philip Roth in 2012.

Photo: Louise Erdrich (credit Allen Brisson-Smith/ New York Times)

PEN American Center has announced the longlist for its 2015 Literary Awards. The annual prizes are given for works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and children’s literature written by emerging and established writers. This year PEN will award over $150,000 to writers through its awards.

The full longlist for the 2015 awards, given in seventeen categories (eight of which do not have a longlist), can be read on PEN’s website. Below are the semi-finalists for a few awards:

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000): Awarded annually for a debut short story collection or novel published in the previous year that represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

The UnAmericans (Norton) by Molly Antopol
(Hogarth) by Cynthia Bond
Black Moon
(Hogarth) by Kenneth Calhoun
(Penguin Press) by Phil Klay
Ride Around Shining
(Harper) by Chris Leslie-Hynan
The Dog
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Jack Livings
The Wives of Los Alamos
(Bloomsbury) by TaraShea Nesbit
The Heaven of Animals
(Simon & Schuster) by David James Poissant
Love Me Back
(Doubleday) by Merritt Tierce
Time of the Locust
(Atria Books) by Morowa Yejidé

Judges: Caroline Fraser, Katie Kitamura, Paul La Farge, Victor LaValle

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): Awarded annually for an essay collection published in the previous year that exemplifies the dignity and esteem the essay form imparts to literature.

Moral Imagination (Princeton University Press) by David Bromwich
Theater of Cruelty
(New York Review Books) by Ian Buruma
(Tin House Books) by Charles D’Ambrosio
Surrendering Oz
(Etruscan Press) by Bonnie Friedman
The Hard Way on Purpose
(Scribner) by David Giffels
Where Have You Been?
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Michael Hofmann
The Empathy Exams
(Graywolf Press) by Leslie Jamison
(Coffee House Press) by Valeria Luiselli
(Sarabande Books) by Angela Pelster
You Feel So Mortal
(University of Chicago Press) by Peggy Shinner

Judges: Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, Mark Slouka

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000); Awarded annually for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color.

An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press) by Rabih Alameddine
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Charles M. Blow
Team Seven
(Doubleday) by Marcus Burke
(Coffee House Press) by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Every Day Is for the Thief
(Random House) by Teju Cole
An Untamed State
(Black Cat) by Roxane Gay
A Brief History of Seven Killings
(Riverhead Press) by Marlon James
Citizen: An American Lyric
(Graywolf Press) by Claudia Rankine
The Fateful Apple
(Urban Poets and Lyricists) by Venus Thrash
The City Son
(Soho Press) by Samrat Upadhyay
Kinder Than Solitude
(Random House) by Yiyun Li

Judges: R. Erica Doyle, W. Ralph Eubanks, Chinelo Okparanta

Finalists will be announced on April 15, and the winners will be announced on May 13 and honored at an award ceremony at the New School in New York City on June 8.

Established in 1922, PEN American Center has administered its Literary Awards for nearly fifty years. Based in New York City, PEN works to “ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.”

Black Balloon Publishing, an imprint of the newly established Catapult, has announced Tegan Nia Swanson as the winner of the 2014 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize for her debut novel, Things We Found When the Water Went Down. The annual award includes a prize of $5,000 and publication for a novel or short story collection.

The editors selected Swanson’s book from more than 1,500 submissions. “Tegan’s novel is organized as a series of artifacts,” says Black Balloon associate editor Julie Buntin. “Reading Things We Found When the Water Went Down is a process of discovery, of excavation, and it’s precisely this narrative ambition that makes the book such a perfect fit for this prize. I had the sense while turning the pages that I was in the presence of something new.”

Swanson is a graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University, where she was the 2011 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Her fiction has appeared in Ecotone, Bellingham Review, and Connu, and in the Black Earth Institute’s About Place Journal. She won the 2013 Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2014 Fiction Fellowships at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. She currently lives in Lyon, France.

Things We Found When the Water Went Down will be published by Black Balloon in the fall of 2016, and will be distributed by Publishers Group West. The finalists for this year’s prize were Anne Corbitt, Joan Frank, and Karen Tucker.

Founded in 2013, the prize is named for Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, a one-eyed, one-armed British naval commander made famous for his victories against the French during the Napoleonic Wars—a man “who defied convention at every turn.” 

Mike Meginnins won the inaugural Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize for his debut novel, Fat Man and Little Boy, which was published in October 2014.

The winners of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night at the New School in New York City. Claudia Rankine, whose poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) was the first book in the NBCC’s history to be nominated in two categories—poetry and criticism—took home the award in poetry. Marilynne Robinson won in fiction for her novel Lila (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and Roz Chast won the autobiography prize for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury).John Lahr won in biography for Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Norton); David Brion Davis won in general nonfiction for The Problem of Slavery In the Age of Emancipation (Knopf); and the criticism prize was awarded posthumously to Ellen Willis for The Essential Ellen Willis (University of Minnesota Press), edited by Willis’s daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz. Phil Klay won the John Leonard Prize for his National Book Award–winning short story collection, Redeployment (Penguin Press); the John Leonard Prize recognizes an outstanding first book in any genre. Alexandra Schwartz, an assistant editor at the New Yorker, won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

The poetry finalists were Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press), Willie Perdomo’s The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (Penguin Books), Christian Wiman’s Once in the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and the late Jake Adam York’s Abide (Southern Illinois University Press).

The finalists in fiction were Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press), Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead), Lily King’s Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press), and Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead).

The autobiography finalists were Blake Bailey’s The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Norton), Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side (Tin House), Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure (Random House), and Meline Toumani’s There Was and There Was Not (Metropolitan Books).

Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which are considered amongst the most prestigious awards given in the literary world, are given annually for books published in the previous year. A board of twenty-four working newspaper and magazine critics and editors nominates and selects the winners each year. The 2013 winners included Frank Bidart for poetry and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for fiction.

Photos from left to right: Claudia Rankine (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times), Marilynne Robinson (Ulf Andersen/Getty), and Roz Chast (Bill Franzen/Washington Post)

The finalists for the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction have been announced. The annual award honors the best work of fiction published by an American author in the previous year.

The five finalists are Jeffery Renard Allen’s Song of the Shank (Graywolf Press), Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen (Hogarth), Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life (Tyrant Books), Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (Knopf), and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation (Knopf). More information about the finalists can be found on the PEN/Faulkner website.

The winner of the $15,000 prize will be announced April 7. The four remaining finalists will each receive $5,000. All finalists will be honored during the annual PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on May 2. The ceremony, which will be hosted by B. J. Novak, is open to the public; tickets are available online or can be purchased by calling the Folger Box Office at 202-544-7077.

Judges Alexander Chee, Marc Fitten, and Deirdre McNamer selected this year’s finalists from 360 novels and short story collections from 142 publishing houses. In a press release, the judges said of their selection process, “The finalists we chose are writing some of the best of American fiction now—urgent and profound work that is deeply engaged with our world, even as it redefines what we call ‘American fiction,’ and what we think of as America.”

Now in its thirty-fifth year, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is sponsored by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, and is the largest peer-judged fiction award in the United States. Karen Joy Fowler won the 2014 award for her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz received the award in 2013 for his short story collection Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club.


Submissions are currently open for the New York Times Modern Love College Essay Contest. The prize is awarded to a current U.S. college student for an essay that “illustrates the current state of love and relationships.” The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the New York Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com. Four runners-up will also receive publication in the Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com.

To enter, writers should e-mail a previously unpublished essay of 1,500 to 1,700 words along with their name, e-mail, phone number, college, and year of graduation to essaycontest@nytimes.com by Sunday, March 15. There is no entry fee. Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times Modern Love column and author of Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers), will judge. The winner will be announced May 3.

The New York Times Modern Love column has sponsored its college essay contest two previous times—in 2008 and 2011—and received thousands of submissions each year from students representing hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country. Caitlin Dewey won the 2011 prize for her essay “Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between us,” and Marguerite Fields won the inaugural prize in 2008 for her essay “Want to Be My Boyfriend? Please Define.” The essays of previous finalists can also be read on the New York Times website.

For more information about the Modern Love column, read Jones’s article “How We Write About Love.”

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