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. This year, the Awards celebrate its thirty-five year anniversary, and while the traditional ceremony has been cancelled to avoid possible COVID-19 transmission, the Foundation looks forward to rescheduling a celebration of the winners at a future date.
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 2020 Whiting Award Winners are…
Fiction writer Genevieve Sly Crane, author of Sorority, whose debut is “an unflinching examination of the kinds of cruelty women perpetrate against another and against themselves,” stunning in its “clear-eyed, razor-sharp sentences… scenes [that] are taut, sliced through with dark humor, and dialogue that crackles with electricity.”
Fiction writer Andrea Lawlor, author of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, whose writing is “mythic and gritty, lyric and witty, brazenly dirty and teeming with life” and whose debut novel is “at once a bacchanalian celebration of outlaw living and an old-fashioned bildungsroman, following its seductive, shape-shifting antihero at a gallop on the path to self-discovery.”
Fiction writer Ling Ma, whose debut novel Severance is a “a marvel of form… a hybrid supergenre” in which she considers “the troubled American present, including end-stage capitalism and especially cultural nostalgia, brilliantly conceived as a fatal epidemic.”
Nonfiction writer Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls, whose “devastating memoir is built on the helical structure of memory itself” and is “packed with indelible images of violence and tenderness that evoke landscapes and neighborhoods, families and strangers, drink and drugs and junk food and beach sand and the bodies of lovers and friends.”
Nonfiction writer Jia Tolentino, whose debut collection Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion is “a marvel, captur[ing] what seems unknowable about the internet and what it is to grow up in its orbit, to become misshapen and seduced by it, defined by it,” with essays that are “compulsively readable [and] shot through with surprise, offering us the delights of eloquence and the satisfactions of her deep, inquiring mind.”
Poet Aria Aber, whose debut collection Hard Damage is “a riotous meeting place where Rilke, pedicures, lamb kebabs, Proust, and the goddess Artemis cross paths,” with poems that “evoke worlds lost and found with glowing intensity” and “multiple languages [that] braid and teach each other what words can mean.”
Poet Diannely Antigua, author of Ugly Music, whose poems “layer lyricism, religious language, and the tactile materials of daily life to build altars of affection for the people and things of her world,” each “meticulously shaped by a formal and aesthetic vision that already feels authoritative.”
Poet Jake Skeets, author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, “a fierce observer of the world” who “assembles lives and landscape with such measured precision that the poems themselves begin to breathe,” counting among his “notable gifts… a lush and surprising imagery, formal dexterity, and an imagination that goes far beyond the borders of the self to extend empathy to everything it touches.”
Poet Genya Turovskaya, author of The Breathing Body of This Thought, whose “spare and haunting… exquisitely wrought” poems “refuse the business and noise of contemporary life in order to clear a space for what’s most deeply interior, private, and elusive about the world of the mind.”
Playwright Will Arbery (Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Plano, Evanston Salt Costs Climbing, and Wheelchair), who is “intellectually audacious, formally sly, [with] the courage to let [his] characters seize the stage with impassioned arguments about morality and meaning,” and whose writing “moves to the beat of multiple metronomes: the rhythms of thought, the counterpoint of competing logics, the heartbeat of human longing.”
Congratulations to all of the 2020 Whiting Award winners!