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August 15, 2011

Short List Announced for $50,000 St. Francis College Literary Prize

Winner to be Announced September 17 at Brooklyn Book Festival Gala

From 116 entries, more than twice the submissions for the first prize two years ago, St. Francis College is proud to announce the six authors on the short list for the second $50,000 Literary Prize awarded to a mid-career author.

The six writers, competing for one of the richest awards in North America, are a diverse mix of authors, coming from across the United States and around the world.

The writers and their nominated books are: Kevin Brockmeier, The Illumination (Pantheon); Joshua Cohen, Witz (Dalkey Archive Press); Jonathan Dee, The Privileges (Random House); Yiyun Li, Gold Boy Emerald Girl (Random House); Marlene van Niekerk, Agaat (Tin House Books); and Brad Watson, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (W. W. Norton & Company).

The prize winning author will be announced Saturday, September 17 at the opening night gala for the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival.

"This is, indeed, an excellent body of work. St. Francis welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the literary worlds of Brooklyn and the nation every two years. We were most fortunate to have such a rich pool of writers and a tremendously committed jury," said St. Francis College Provost Timothy J. Houlihan.

The jury for the award is composed of three award winning writers; Francine Prose (A Changed Man, Blue Angel, My New American Life), Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death, Garden State, The Ice Storm) and Darcey Steinke (Easter Everywhere, Milk: A Novel, Suicide Blonde).

"We owe a great debt to the jurors for this prize," said St. Francis College English Professor Ian Maloney who oversees the Literary Prize. "The sheer volume of amazing literature that was sent to us made for an incredibly difficult decision. The jury worked diligently to find voices which merited mid-career support and acknowledgement. We eagerly await their final decision."

The St. Francis College $50,000 Literary Award was first given in 2009 to Aleksandar Hemon for his book, Love and Obstacles (Riverhead Books). The award is part of the College's larger mission to support writers in Brooklyn and beyond. The College brings numerous authors to campus every year through events like the Walt Whitman Writers Series, including: E.L. Doctorow, Kate Christensen, Julie Orringer, Jonathan Lethem and Nikki Giovanni.

The next speaker for the Walt Whitman Series will be New Yorker 20 under 40 author Dinaw Mengestu on October 17 at 4:30. Author Ben Marcus will read at St. Francis in the spring.

About the authors and their work:

Kevin Brockmeier, The Illumination (Pantheon)
Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Kevin Brockmeier's novel The Illumination explores the question, "What if our pain was the most beautiful thing about us?" The novel follows the story of a journal of love notes that passes to six people opening up a world in which human pain is expressed as illumination, so that one's wounds glitter, fluoresce, and blaze with light. Brockmeier is a best-selling and award-winning author whose work has been translated into fifteen languages. His work has been published in a variety of publications, including; The New Yorker, Zoetrope, The Oxford American, The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and New Stories from the South. He has received many awards including the Borders Original Voices Award, three O. Henry Awards (one, a first prize), the PEN USA Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Grant. Photo: Ben Krain

Joshua Cohen, Witz (Dalkey Archive Press)
Joshua Cohen was born in New Jersey. His book, Witz, conceives of a world where a plague kills all the Jews in the world except for firstborn males. By the following Passover, however, only one is still alive: Benjamin Israelien; a kindly, innocent, ignorant man-child. As he finds himself transformed into an international superstar, Jewishness becomes all the rage: matzo-ball soup is in every bowl, sidelocks are hip; and the only truly Jewish Jew left is increasingly stigmatized for not being religious. Since his very existence exposes the illegitimacy of the newly converted, Israelien becomes the object of a worldwide hunt... Meanwhile, in the not-too-distant future of our own, "real" world, another last Jew—the last living Holocaust survivor—sits alone in a snowbound Manhattan, providing a final melancholy witness to his experiences in the form of the punch lines to half-remembered jokes.

Jonathan Dee, The Privileges (Random House)
Jonathan Dee teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and the New School. His novel The Privileges tells the story of Adam and Cynthia Morey. With Adam's rising career in the world of private equity, a beautiful home in Manhattan, gorgeous children, and plenty of money, they are, by any reasonable standard, successful. But as Cynthia begins to drift, Adam must decide how much he is willing to risk to ensure his family's happiness and to recapture the sense that the only acceptable life is one of infinite possibility. The Privileges is an odyssey of a couple touched by fortune, changed by time, and guided above all else by their epic love for each other. Dee is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, a frequent contributor to Harper's, and a former senior editor of The Paris Review. Photo: Marion Ettlinger

Yiyun Li, Gold Boy Emerald Girl (Random House)
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her collection of short stories, Gold Boy Emerald Girl, offers suspense, depth, and beauty, in which history, politics, and folklore magnificently intertwine with the human condition. In the title story "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl," a professor introduces her middle-aged son to a favorite student, unaware of the student's true affections. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, O Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award and Guardian First Book Award. She was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. Li is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space and teaches at University of California, Davis. Photo: Jynelle A. Gracia

Marlene van Niekerk, Agaat (Tin House Books)
Marlene van Niekerk is currently an associate professor in Afrikaans and Dutch literature and creative writing at Stellenbosch University, in South Africa. Her novel, Agaat (translated by Michiel Heyns), set in apartheid South Africa, portrays the unique, forty-year relationship between Milla, a sixty-seven-year-old white woman, and her black maidservant turned caretaker, Agaat. In 1950s South Africa, life for white farmers was full of promise—young and newly married, Milla raised a son and created her own farm with Agaat by her side. By the 1990s, Milla's family has fallen apart and the country she knew is on the brink of huge change. Van Niekerk is an award-winning poet, novelist, and short story writer. Her novels have been on the New York Times Notable Book list (2004), and won the CNA Literary Award, the prestigious Noma Award, the Sunday Times Literary Prize 2007 and the Hertzog Prize 2007.

Brad Watson, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (W. W. Norton & Company)
Brad Watson
teaches creative writing at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. His collection Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, is a riotous, appalling, and mournful oddity of human beings. Watson writes about every kind of domestic discord: unruly or distant children, alienated spouses, domestic abuse, loneliness, death and divorce. In his masterful title novella, a freshly married teenaged couple are visited by an unusual pair of inmates from a nearby insane asylum—and find out exactly how mismatched they really are. With exquisite tenderness, Watson relates the brutality of both nature and human nature. His writing offers an all-seeing, six-dimensional view of human hopes, inadequacies, and rare grace. He has won the Sue Kauffman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and been named a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Photo: Nell Hanley

About the Jury:

Francine Prose is the author of many bestselling books of fiction, including A Changed Man and Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the nonfiction New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. Her novel, Household Saints, was adapted for a movie by Nancy Savoca. Another novel, The Glorious Ones, has been adapted into a musical of the same name by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, which ran at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York City in the fall of 2007. Her latest novel is My New American Life. She is the president of PEN American Center and lives in New York City.

Rick Moody is the author of Garden State (Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award), The Ice Storm (made into a major motion picture) and his most recent novel, The Four Fingers of Death. His other work includes: Purple America, The Diviners; two collections of stories, The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven and Demonology; and a memoir, The Black Veil, winner of the PEN/ Martha Albrand Award. He has also received the Addison Metcalf Award, the Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Darcey Steinke has written the memoir Easter Everywhere and several novels including, Milk: A Novel, Suicide Blonde and Jesus Saves, and twice been named to the New York Times Most Notable Books of the Year list. Moody and Steinke recently co-edited the collection, Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. Steinke also writes for the New York Times Book Review.

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.

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