Whiting Awards Announce 10 Winners, Aiming To Honor Future Bookshelf Staples

The winners of the 2018 Whiting Awards don't have much of a track record. None on this list has the laundry list of accolades you may be accustomed to seeing for literary prize winners. Several don't even have a second book to their names.

But that's the idea here.

The Whiting Foundation announced the 10 winners of its annual prize Wednesday, cobbling a list that spans fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama in its bid to honor literature's most promising emerging writers. "The award," awards Director Courtney Hodell explains, "is intended to give them the freedom to keep experimenting and growing."

In alphabetical order, the winners are: poet and nonfiction writer Anne Boyer; debut novelist Patty Yumi Cottrell; playwright Nathan Alan Davis; playwright Hansol Jung; poet Rickey Laurentiis; playwright Antoinette Nwandu; poet Tommy Pico; novelist Brontez Purnell; novelist Weike Wang; and nonfiction writer Esmé Weijun Wang.

Each writer receives $50,000 and a place of honor at a ceremony keynoted by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison on Wednesday.

And while this year's winners may not be household names, many of their predecessors are. Since the award's founding in 1985, its winners have included David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, August Wilson, Jorie Graham and many others — who, after winning the Whiting, went on to more than fill out that literary laundry list of Pulitzers, National Book Awards and Obies.

There's still plenty of time for the writers below to ink similar resumes. In the meantime, though, here's the list of this year's winners again — together with the Whiting judges' reasons why they were picked.

  • Anne Boyer's work, as seen in her Garments Against Women, "unsettles all the familiar shapes of memoir and poetry to build a new city, one where worn ideas of labor and creativity are a monument toppled in the square."
  • Patty Yumi Cottrell's novel Sorry to Disrupt the Peace "opens up fresh lines of questioning in the old interrogations of identity, the politics of belonging, and the problem of other minds."
  • Nathan Alan Davis' plays — Nat Turner in Jerusalem; and Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea — evince an "uncanny gift for allegory and language, boiling down the large narratives of the African-American past to the scale of individuals wrestling to express themselves."
  • Hansol Jung's plays Among the Dead and Cardboard Piano "knit together the agonies of Korean history, the restless excitement and anxiety of the tech age, and the shapes of loss and longing."
  • Rickey Laurentiis' poems in Boy with Thorn "trace the complex relationships among power, freedom, and violence with both sinuous lyricism and urgent declamation."
  • Antoinette Nwandu's plays Pass Over and Breach are "blistering interrogations of race, power, and violence [that] range from symbolic to highly naturalistic works."
  • Brontez Purnell's novel Since I Laid My Burden Down offers "explorations of blackness, queerness, maleness, and Southernness take sharp, confident turns between raunch and rhapsody."
  • Tommy Pico "writes poetry of rare brilliance, assured in form and forceful in its interrogation of myth and cultural expectations and self."
  • Weike Wang in her novel Chemistry "takes apart what we know about the immigrant experience and puts something bold and new in its place, with a scientist's eye and epigrammatic humor."
  • Esmé Weijun Wang's nonfiction in the upcoming The Collected Schizophrenias "undertakes an investigation into life with schizoaffective disorder and chronic illness with narrative drive and prose of confiding grace."
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