Last night in New York City the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation offered another group of emerging writers what could be a life- and career-altering gift. Since 1985, the foundation has annually offered fifty-thousand-dollar prizes to ten writers whose early work suggests the promise of a flourishing career—Jeffrey Eugenides, Yiyun Li, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Karr, and Terrance Hayes are among the 270 poets, authors, and playwrights to have received the award in the past.
The 2011 Whiting Writers' Award honorees, most of whom have published only one book, are poets Don Mee Choi, Eduardo C. Corral, Shane McCrae, and Kerri Webster; fiction writers Scott Blackwood, Ryan Call, Daniel Orozco, and Teddy Wayne; memoirist Paul Clemens; and playwright Amy Herzog. None of these writers applied for the award; winners are nominated by a group of anonymous literary professionals, which have historically included editors, agents, bookstore owners, and critics.
Poet Mark Doty, who received the Writers' Award in 1994, delivered the prize address, encouraging the winners to "savor this brilliant occasion of attention and celebration" and store it for those inevitable occasions where rejection and self-doubt threaten to define the day.
"May these awards...help you to negotiate with your doubts," he said. "May this award lend you aid and comfort while you move ahead in what I hope will be a long, happy work in service of what is real."
In the video below, Don Mee Choi reads from her book, The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010).