Judges have selected five books published in 2012 as finalists for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, America's largest peer-juried prize for fiction. The nominees are:
Amelia Gray for Threats (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Laird Hunt for Kind One (Coffee House Press)
T. Geronimo Johnson for Hold It 'Til It Hurts (Coffee House Press)
Thomas Mallon for Watergate (Pantheon)
Benjamin Alire Saenz for Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club (Cinco Puntos Press)
The announcement was made today by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Susan Richards Shreve and Robert Stone, Co-Chairmen.
The judges—Walter Kirn, Nelly Rosario, and A.J. Verdelle—considered more than 350 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the US during the 2012 calendar year. Submissions came from 130 publishing houses, including small and academic presses. There is no fee for a publisher to submit a book.
The winner, who will receive $15,000, will be announced on March 19; the four finalists will receive $5,000 each.
In a ceremony that celebrates the winner as "first among equals," all five authors will be honored during the 33rd Annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library, located at 201 East Capitol Street, SE on Saturday, May 4, at 7pm. Tickets are $125 for the reading ceremony and seated buffet dinner, and can be purchased by phoning the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077 or online at www.penfaulkner.org.
About the selection process, judge A.J. Verdelle reports that, "Judging the 2013 PEN/Faulkner contest proves that even in the advent of this digital age, American letters continues to thrive. American writers grace the page from small and large publishers, from traditionally known outfits like Random House and FSG, and from a great number of smaller entities like FC2 and Coffee House Press. Both the PEN/Faulkner competition and the impressive breadth of the submissions celebrates the hard work required to invent and imagine, to reimagine and revise."
About the Finalists
Amelia Gray's debut novel Threats has been hailed by critics for its clever and disquieting depictions of loss and decay. After his wife Franny dies, David discovers a series of threats hidden away in the nooks and crannies of his home. He finds them on scraps of paper hidden in the reservoir of his coffee pot and wrapped around a small tub of Franny's eye cream. "I will cross stitch an image of your future home burning. I will hang this image over your bed while you sleep," reads one threat. "My truth will bring atomic snow upon your sweet-smelling lambs and children," reads another. As David attempts to make sense of his wife's death, his own emotional and mental stability are called into question, leaving the reader—like David—to wonder what can be trusted when the world seems to be falling apart. Riffing on tropes more frequently found in detective fiction and film noir, Gray's novel has garnered comparisons to the work of Samuel Beckett and to the films of David Lynch. Publisher's Weekly lauded the novel, writing "As with any good detective novel, the pieces come together. What would have seemed gimmicky in the hands of a less skilled writer becomes a cunning whodunit with Gray at the reins. This is an innovative debut novel featuring a most unreliable (and compelling) narrator." Gray is the author of two previous short collections AM/PM and Museum of the Weird, which won the Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize. She lives in Los Angeles.
The horrors of slavery and the search for redemption are central to Laird Hunt's novel Kind One. Upon marrying her mother's second cousin, 14-year-old Ginny Lancaster moves from her Indiana home to her new husband's Kentucky home where instead of the mansion she expected, she finds herself occupying a rough cabin tended by two young slaves, Cleome and Zinnia. A resonant meditation on the nature of violence, cruelty, and complicity, Kind One was hailed by Kathryn Lang in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as "a mesmerizing novel of sin and expiation that plumbs the depths of human depravity and despair, [that] hints at the possibility of redemption for those 'life-kicked' souls who acknowledge their guilt and turn away from the provocation to sin." A multiple-perspective novel, Kind One has also been lauded in the Oxford American for its authenticity of voice: "It is not easy to write in a Southern voice without succumbing to the pitfalls of condescension or just total ridiculousness, but Hunt handles it exquisitely." The author of four previous novels—The Impossibly, The Exquisite, Ray of the Star, and Indiana, Indiana—Hunt has been published in France, Japan, Italy, Turkey, and Spain. Currently on faculty in the University of Denver's Creative Writing Program, where he edits the Denver Quarterly, he and his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, live in Boulder, Colorado, with their daughter, Eva Grace.
T. Geronimo Johnson's debut novel Hold It ˜Til It Hurts is a contemporary odyssey that explores themes of fealty, class and race, even while telling the nail-biting story of a man in search of his lost brother. Achilles and Troy are the adopted sons of white parents who return to the U.S. following a tour of duty in Afghanistan only to learn that their father has died. After their mother presents each man with an envelope containing information about his biological parents, Troy abruptly leaves for New Orleans. Achilles attempts to follow, and spends months on the road, tracking his brother through Army connections, hospitals and shelters. It is a harrowing journey set against the backdrop of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Chitra Divakaruni called Hold It ˜Til It Hurts "a novel that defies categorization. It is at once a mystery, a meditation, a modern-day myth, an indictment of war and an ode to love. But this much is clear: This masterfully written book, filled with trenchant observations and unafraid of tenderness, marks Johnson as a writer to watch." A New Orleans native, Johnson is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Best New American Voices, Indiana Review, LA Review, and elsewhere. Currently, he teaches writing at University of California-Berkley.
Thomas Mallon's Watergate deftly reimagines the events and characters surrounding the Watergate scandal with extraordinary vividness and depth. Through the eyes of seven different narrators, many who occupy minor roles in the annals of most histories, Mallon breathes new life into what many might consider common American knowledge. Woodward and Bernstein are a side note, while Alice Roosevelt Longworth—the elderly, razor-sharp daughter of Theodore Roosevelt—moves to the fore. Included on the New York Times' list of 100 Notable Books of 2012, Janet Maslin praised the novel as a "stealth bull's-eye of a political novel" with "the name-dropping panache of a Hollywood tell-all." The Washington Post's book critic Ron Charles has praised the novel for its expansive detail, writing "Mallon entices us back to those frenzied pre-Internet days of the Dictabelt, the smoking gun, the hush money, the Saturday Night Massacre, the Enemies List, Deep Throat, CREEP and 'expletive deleted'—the whole, labyrinthine episode that newly sworn-in President Gerald Ford too expansively characterized as 'an American tragedy in which we all have played a part.'" A longtime resident of Washington, DC, Thomas Mallon is the author of eight novels, including Henry and Clara, Dewey Defeats Truman, and Fellow Travelers, and seven works of nonfiction. He currently directs the Creative Writing program at The George Washington University.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz's collection, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, presents seven stories set on the south Texas border of El Paso and Juárez, examining lives bounded by geography, politics, violence and the echoes of personal history. The titular Kentucky Club, a Juárez institution that sits four blocks from the US border, provides a guiding thread for the collection, acting alternately as backdrop, touchstone, and oasis for a humane set of characters who struggle with the impossible ambiguities of borders—sexual, emotional, national, economic—and the definitions and attachments they breed. From, "He Has Gone to Be with the Women," the story of Juan Carlos and Javier who are drawn to each other in an El Paso coffee shop, and embark on a short-lived romance before the violence of Juárez pulls them apart, to "The Rule Maker," which follows a conflicted young man who recognizes that the opportunities provided by his father have come from the money of drug deals and addiction. In the words of Donna Chavez, writing for Booklist, "Sáenz writes prose that is tender, occasionally fierce, and always engaging. Read every word of his stories lest you miss some clever twist, some subtle irony, some gentle nuance of poetic imagery that he has labored to create." Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a poet, fiction writer and essayist who has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN Center's award for young adult fiction. He is the chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Celebrating the 33rd year of this Award, The PEN/Faulkner Foundation is committed to building audiences for exceptional literature and bringing writers together with their readers. This mission is accomplished through a reading series at Folger Shakespeare Library by distinguished writers who have won the respect of readers and writers alike; the PEN/Faulkner Award, the largest peer-juried award for fiction in the United States; the PEN/Malamud Award, honoring excellence in the short story; and the Writers in Schools program, which brings nationally and internationally-acclaimed authors to public high school classrooms, and to book groups of teen parents, in Washington, DC.
For more information, visit www.penfaulkner.org