The Whiting Awards select 10 up-and-coming writers who don’t mind being far away from the present moment

When the Whiting Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the arts, took action their annual awards $50,000 each for 10 promising writers who enjoy operating with an atmosphere of mystery, employing a secret panel of judges, and notifying the winners of the life-changing prize via a phone call. surprise phone. Like most parts of everyday magic, it has been complicated by the inconveniences of modern life. Winners increasingly balk at calls from an unknown number, resulting in lengthy notification processes that sometimes involve cryptic emails. But for the poet Claire Schwartz, one of this year’s awardees, her ability to answer spam calls is very helpful.

“It was like a joke to my friends – I always pick random numbers because I thought, Maybe something will happen. But there’s always someone trying to steal my identity,” she said in an interview this week. A few months ago, she picked up the phone and on the other side, she heard the voice of Courtney Hodell, the award’s program director, informed her that she had won the award for identifying promising writers early in their careers. “I was shocked, and I think I said so.”

In addition to her day job as a culture editor at Jewish OrderSchwartz is preparing to release his first book of poetry, civil service, this summer, and she says it represents the culmination of about a decade of work. In presenting her with the award, the judges called her work “exploratory, lucid, aphorism and also very humane.”

The Whiting Awards are known for picking out future literary stars long before they’re noticed, and their reputation for clairvoyance has only grown since the 2012 selection. Danai Gurira, a playwright and actor who took on the lead roles in Zombie and Black Panther. This week, the 2022 winners were inducted into an illustrious club comprised of writers who have defined the past 40 years in American letters, including the 1988 winner. Jonathan Franzen, Winner 2000 Colson Whitehead, Winner of 1987 Deborah Eisenberg and David Foster Wallace, winner of 1992 Suzan-Lori Park, and the winner of 1990 Tony Kushner.

At a ceremony Wednesday at the New York Historical Society, Schwartz and nine other award recipients gathered to bask in the feeling that something big was happening. As an award that looks to the future of literature, the days of events surrounding the award’s announcement are often filled with enthusiasm and joy, in contrast to what is happening in the world at large. Perhaps that is why, as author and recipient of the genius grant MacArthur Maggie Nelson As she pointed out in her keynote address, speeches from past ceremonies often sounded rather grim, discussing upsetting current events.

In response, she delivered a message of optimism. “You know the state of the world and the words that can be done in it,” Nelson said as he addressed the winners. “It’s not that I think things will get better, I just think it’s all worth it.”

Although the selection committee remains a secret once the process is over, the awards are presented with a little praise from the judges, but delivered by the keynote speaker. Every year, several themes emerge from their plaudits and the biographies of the winners, and many of the 2022 writers directly address world issues in their work. Winner Megha Majumdar, whose 2021 debut novel, Burn, obtain The New York Times bestseller list, praised for its ability to make “complex political scenarios come true by showing how ordinary people become hostile to forces greater than themselves”, while Claire Boyles, whose short-story anthology has been long-listed for the PEN/Robert Bingham Prize, has been praised for her works ”emphasizing how we recognize that we are together. any. ” Poem Ina Cariño incorporated insightful observations of cultural memory into the poems, which the judges described as “taking the reader into a fever of dreaming of seeing and feeling”.

Hodell was unable to attend this year, which is perhaps still a bit of a mystery to the winners, but in a statement she commended their writing. “As the world opened up, these brilliant writers opened up ours,” she said. “From fresh cultural critiques, to poems about places, people and deliciousness, to novels that bring surrealist wit to benevolent portraits, their work is the spring thaw of the mind.”

For the past two years, coronavirus has meant ceremony virtual, but the return of an in-person ceremony means the return of an open-air reception in the airy foyer of the eclectic museum. A collection of literary names were on hand to celebrate, including Anna Quindlen, The New Yorkers‘S James Woods, Lisa Lucas by Pantheon Books, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (and recipient of the 2016 Whiting Prize) Mitchell S. Jackson.

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