Ten Emerging Writers Receive $50,000 Whiting Awards

by Staff

The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation announced yesterday the ten recipients of this year's Whiting Writers' Awards. The awards, which each carry a $50,000 prize, are given annually to poets and writers in the early stages of their careers, some of whom have not yet published first books, who exhibit "exceptional talent and promise."

The winners are poets Rick Hilles, Douglas Kearney, and Julie Sheehan; fiction writers Mischa Berlinski, Laleh Khadivi, Manuel Muñoz, Benjamin Percy, and Lysley Tenorio; essayist Donovan Hohn; and playwright Dael Orlandersmith. The writers were honored at a ceremony held at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

"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, director of the Writers’ Awards program, in a press release. "These writers are strikingly well-traveled in imagination if not in fact."

The award recipients are selected by a panel of writers, editors, and scholars, from nearly one hundred anonymous nominations made by literary professionals across the country. Past winners include Denis Johnson, Jorie Graham, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, and Colson Whitehead.

Established in 1963 by Flora E. Whiting, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, which also grants fellowships to doctoral candidates in the humanities, has presented the Writers' Awards since 1985.


Where are the women?

After reading an October 24, 2008 article in the New York Times "Charging Bias by Theaters, Female Playwrights to Hold Meeting," I have been paying more attention to potential gender inequalities in the writing world. Looking through the Whiting Award winners, there is certainly no dearth of ethnic and geographical diversity, but despite gender-ambiguous names, only three of the ten winners are women, and last year, again, seven of the ten winners awarded this prestigious prize were men. I know that talent on the page has no face or gender, but I think we need to be careful of the same unconscious biases that exist in every other profession as well as be aware that men, typically in the highest editorial positions, are less likely, in some cases, to relate to the topics and themes explored in women's work and perhaps even the style of writing. This is not to say I don't admire and honor the individual winners; they appear to be a very accomplished and interesting group of people. I just think that success in this field can hinge on a very slim margin that leads to a lucky break.