PEN/Faulkner Finalists Announced!

Judges have selected five books published in 2009 as finalists for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction.  The nominees are Sherman Alexie for War Dances (Grove Press); Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna (Harper); Lorraine M. López for Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories (BkMk Press); Lorrie Moore for A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf); and Colson Whitehead for Sag Harbor (Doubleday).  The announcement was made today by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Susan Richards Shreve and Robert Stone, Co-Chairmen.

The judges—Rilla Askew, Kyoko Mori, and Al Young—considered close to 350 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the US during the 2009 calendar year. Submissions came from over 90 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 23; 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 30th Annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library, located at 201 East Capitol Street, SE on Saturday, May 8, at 7pm.  Tickets are $100, and can be purchased by phoning the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077 or online at

About the selection process, judge Al Young says, “Overwhelmed by book-length stories and storytellers, we three writer-judges had to knuckle down and settle in for some serious summer, fall and winter reading and inner-listening. We managed to come up with five lingering beauties that freshly express the complex ways Americans believe and behave.”

About the Finalists
Sherman Alexie’s War Dances is a collection of 23 tragicomic short stories on the themes of love, betrayal, familial relationships, race and class. These structurally inventive pieces are interspersed with poems which refract the stories’ themes or topics. “Breaking and Entering,” tells the vivid, off-kilter story of a Native American man’s inadvertent murder of a black teenage burglar who breaks into his home.  Another story, “Fearful Symmetry,” examines a filmmaker’s futile struggle to maintain artistic integrity in the face of commercial demands.  The title story, originally published in The New Yorker, is narrated by a son, reflecting upon the difficult events of his father’s dying, the narrator’s own health scare, and the relationships between fathers and sons, brothers, and husbands and wives.  The story asks its readers to rethink our definitions of compassion and camaraderie, and of what a true community is.  As fellow writer Anthony Swofford has written, “War Dances is a virtuoso performance of wit and pathos, a cultural and familial critique and a son’s quiet, worthless scream against the night as his father expires…” Winner of a 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and many additional honors including, most recently, the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, Alexie is the author of four novels, three prior short story collections, numerous books of poetry, documentaries, and films. Alexie lives in Seattle, Washington.

Praised as an impassioned historical novel, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna takes as its protagonist Harrison William Shepherd from 1929–1951 over episodes in Mexico and the United States during World War II and post-war McCarthyism. The son of Solomé, a beautiful and rash Mexican woman, and an American father (whom Solomé abandons in Washington, DC), Shepherd seeks a more measured life. His domestic skills—and ironic fortune—lead him to the household of Diego Rivera, for whom Shepherd mixes plaster, artist Frieda Kahlo, and their guest, the exiled Communist leader Leon Trotsky, in the period just before his assassination. The novel is structured largely as journal entries, notebooks later collected by his loyal secretary and sealed against the risks of political scrutiny—until 2009. Shepherd’s personal revelations and remembrances provide the framework for this novel.  “How can the experiences of a fictional loner merge with those of larger-than-life figures who played a pivotal role in world politics?” writes Lisel Schillinger for the New York Times. “And what can readers learn from their intersection? These are the questions answered by this dazzling novel, which plunges into Shepherd’s notebooks to dredge up not only the perceptions they conceal but also a history larger than his own.” Honored with a 2002 National Humanities Medal, and the author of six other works of fiction, Kingsolver lives in southern Appalachia.

The ten stories in Lorraine López’s collection Homicide Survivors Picnic illuminate the lives of men and women, teenagers and children at turning-point moments, often precarious. Narrated in sharp, colorful prose, the stories are set in various southern locations which serve to enhance López’s complex characters.  In the title story, a single mother drives her pregnant teenage daughter and son to a gathering for survivors of murdered loved ones. The daughter’s boyfriend was recently shot and killed, and both the mother and her son, Ted, hope the gathering might help release the young woman from her depressive stupor. The story is narrated by Ted who is at once angry and frightened, the reader of maps for his routinely lost mother, comforter of his vacant sister, and yearning for his own escape. Two powerful linked stories, “The Flood” and “The Landscape” follow Lydia, a linguistics professor who is serving as surrogate mother for the precocious young daughter of her drug-addicted cousin.  As fellow writer and critic Heather Sellers has written, “An amazingly original Flannery O’Connor/Loretta Lynn collision, this collection lets us witness the indomitable spirit and forces us to take pure joy in all we really ever have a chance at:  flawed, gorgeous, weird, rollicking, screwed survival.”  The author of three additional works of fiction and winner of the International Latino Book Award, López teaches at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Lorrie Moore’s much awaited novel, A Gate at the Stairs, takes place just after 9/11, a historical moment which generates subtle anxiety and dislocation well into the narrative, until we recognize the way its impact has shaped, or reshaped, Moore’s characters’ lives. Tassie Keltjin, whose farming father is the noted producer of the “Keltjin potatoes,” is a first-year college student in a Midwestern college town.  She undertakes the job of prospective nanny to a wealthy couple, desperate to adopt.  The poignant contradiction of this caretaking position (for a baby not yet identified) undergirds Tassie’s deepening involvement with her employer Sarah Brink, potential birth mothers, and finally the adopted baby itself. The novel follows the parallel story of Tassie’s first relationship with Reynaldo, a romantic attachment that is exhilarating, bewildering, and disenchanting almost at once. “The novel’s climax,” writes Ron Charles for the Washington Post, “takes us right into the disorienting logic of grief for a scene that’s both horrifying and tender, a grotesque violation of taboos that’s entirely forgivable and heartbreaking.” The author of three celebrated collections of short fiction and two prior novels, Moore has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and letters, with the Rea Award for the Short Story, and the PEN/Malamud Award, among others.  She teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Described by writer Jonathan Lethem as “a meticulous diorama of the recent past…where we learn just how strange and specific the universal experience of ‘coming of age’ really can be,” Colson Whitehead’s fourth novel, Sag Harbor, investigates one summer spent in eastern Long Island’s Sag Harbor through the eyes of 15-year old Benji Cooper. Between one Memorial Day and Labor Day in 1985, Benji sheds the uniform of his Manhattan prep school where he is one of the few African American students to spend the summer with his family and friends in this predominantly African-American community. Admired for its leisurely exploration of a particular place, time, and the sensibility of one young man, Sag Harbor‘s richness is found in Whitehead’s elegant, unexpected writing of daily events and impressions. Benji’s witty, often ironic voice takes us through his musical passions and social anxieties, BB gun fights, and his first summer job in an ice cream parlor. Large thematic concerns, like Benji’s negotiation of the different worlds he inhabits, are the life fabric of this book, but it’s the celebration of the enticing everyday that forms the heart of this novel.  Recipient of a McArthur Fellowship, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Colson Whitehead lives in Brooklyn, New York.

About these five remarkable books, judge Rilla Askew writes, “I’m delighted by how richly American these books are. Elegant, funny, the pain often embedded in the laugh lines, these works range widely in terms of geography, era, and culture; each is rich in story and language, and subtly informed by the author’s complex sensibility and mastery of craft.”

About PEN/Faulkner

Celebrating the 30th 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 in Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Kansas City.

For More Information, visit

Published in: on March 1, 2010 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  

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