Since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has supported creative writing through the Whiting Awards, which are given annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. Tonight, the 2019 winners were honored at a ceremony at the New York Historical Society featuring a keynote by Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Whiting Award winner Adam Johnson.
The awards, of $50,000 each, are based on early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come. The Foundation hopes to “identify exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture.” Though the writers may not necessarily be young (talent may emerge at any age), the grant ideally offers recipients a first opportunity to devote themselves fully to writing.
Without further ado, the 2019 Whiting Award Winners are…
Fiction writer Hernan Diaz, author of the novel In the Distance and the nonfiction book Borges, between History and Eternity. Diaz’s debut novel crafts language both “plainspoken and wildly, even cosmically, evocative” to explore “two kinds of wilderness: the immensely taxing newness of the American West and the still-forming interiority of a Swedish immigrant desperate to find a way back home.”
Fiction writer Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of the short story collection Heads of the Colored People, who writes with a “bold new voice—young, gifted, black, unafraid of its own contradictions, and powerful enough to take the writer anywhere she wishes to go.”
Fiction writer Merritt Tierce, author of Love Me Back, whose “clear-eyed, dark-hearted, and mordantly funny” debut novel “approaches economically marginalized lives with an unflinching and off-kilter gaze.”
Nonfiction writer Terese Marie Mailhot, author of Heart Berries: A Memoir, who “writes with a fierce and unyielding commitment to creating an unlikeable—which is to say, fully human—female narrator,” mobilizing her “intelligence, clarity, honesty, and complexity.”
Nonfiction writer Nadia Owusu, author of the forthcoming book Aftershocks, whose “profound meditation on rootlessness, hybridity, and resilience” is constituted of “beautifully restless prose, always in search of music and meaning.”
Poet Kayleb Rae Candrilli, whose verse memoir What Runs Over is “the most unsettling of lullabies,” unfolding “with savage grace as it lays bare the violence and isolation of a trans person’s coming of age.”
Poet Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, author of Beast Meridian, who transports us “into a wilderness, a porous border world of dual (or multiple) identities” with lines that “blaze with anger and empathy.”
Playwright Michael R. Jackson, whose forthcoming musical, A Strange Loop, “is robustly intelligent, unflinchingly honest, dizzyingly screwball, and a sheer delight.”
Playwright Lauren Yee, who, in her recent play, Cambodian Rock Band, “examines the legacy of the Khmer Rouge in a play that also takes on the dynamics of father/daughter relationships and the joyful legacy of Cambodian pop music,” using dialogue that “asserts its vibrant, specific life.”
All ten writers will read at a free, public event introduced by previous Whiting Award winner Alexander Chee tomorrow evening, Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m. in the Strand’s Rare Book Room in Manhattan. If you’ll be in New York, this a reading not to be missed!
Congratulations to all of the 2019 Whiting Award winners!