March 23, 2010 in Features

Sherman Alexie wins prestigious fiction award

Mary Ann Gwinn Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Sherman Alexie, photographed in 2007.
(Full-size photo)

Seattle author Sherman Alexie has added another award to his groaning shelf of literary trophies — the 2010 Pen/Faulkner award for fiction for his book of short stories, essays and poems, “War Dances” (Grove Press).

The prestigious Pen-Faulkner Award is the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States. The announcement, made this morning from Washington D.C.’s, Folger Library called “War Dances” “a collection of structurally inventive pieces on the themes of love, betrayal, familial relationships, race, and class. The stories are interspersed with poems which refract their themes or topics. About this collection judge Al Young says, ` “War Dances” taps every vein and nerve, every tissue, every issue that quickens the current blood-pulse: parenthood, divorce, broken links, sex, gender and racial conflict, substance abuse, medical neglect, 9/11, Official Narrative vs. What Really Happened, settler religion vs. native spirituality; marketing, shopping, and war, war, war. All the heartbreaking ways we don’t live now — this is the caring, eye-opening beauty of this rollicking, bittersweet gem of a book.’ ”

Alexie is the first Native American author to win the prize, a Pen/Faulkner spokesperson said this morning.

He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and left to attend Reardan High School. Alexie later attended Gonzaga University and graduated from Washington State University.

Alexie said this morning that the award is particularly meaningful to him, both because he’s the first Native American author to win and because “it was established by writers, for writers. The fact that writers give the award is big for me, especially for this book.” He called “War Dances” a “mix tape” of writing styles and forms that not all reviewers and readers understood; “stories, poems, themes intersecting themes. Some people missed that.”

Alexie, 43, previously won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for his autobiographical novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” and recently picked up the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award.

As winner, Alexie receives $15,000. Each of the four finalists — Barbara Kingsolver for “The Lacuna” (Harper); Lorraine M. López for “Homicide Survivors Picnic And Other Stories” (BkMk Press); Lorrie Moore for “ Gate at The Stairs” (Knopf); and Colson Whitehead for “Sag Harbor” (Doubleday) — receives $5,000.

All five authors will be honored on May 8 during the 30th anniversary PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.


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