English and Comparative Literature Professor Saidiya Hartman Wins 2021 PEN Award for Nonfiction

BY Nicole Saldarriaga, April 9, 2021

In a virtual ceremony last night, PEN America announced the winners of their 2021 Literary Awards, conferring the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction to English and Comparative Literature Professor Saidiya Hartman for her book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020). 

 

The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award is given each year to "a distinguished book of general nonfiction...possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues." Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, with its exploration of intimate life for Black women at the beginning of the 20th Century, certainly falls into this category. 

 

According to judges Roxanne Gay, Thomas Page McBee, Dunya Mikhail, Eric Schlosser, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Lara Wides-Muñoz, "Hartman brings these women to life with grace and intelligence, probing the shape of their lives, and how their choices were all too often constrained by race, class, and gender. But she also allows these young women to be more than statistics or tragic stories. She imagines their joys alongside their sorrows. And she tries to create space for their voices to rise above the reality that, for many of these women, 'Beauty and longing provided the essential architecture of her existence. Her genius was exhausted in trying to live.' Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a triumphant, compelling, utterly original work of scholarship. It is a bold, beautiful experiment.”

Wayward Lives is also the winner of a 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award and a 2019 Macarthur Fellowship. The Los Angeles Review of Books called it "A radical, genre-defying examination of the lives of 'ordinary' young Black women...As is redolent of all Hartman's work, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments offers a blistering critique of historical archives as the singular or even most authoritative source of credible knowledge…[She] implores us to pause and consider who is inside of an outside of the archive; whose voice is heard and whose voice is silenced; whose lives matter and whose lives do not." 

 

Assistant Professor Leslie Jamison wrote for The New York Times Book Review, "I was inspired, surprised and deeply moved…[Hartman's] mode is intimate, radical, and always alive to the details."  

 

The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction carries a monetary prize of $10,000. 

 

Saidiya Hartman is also the author of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route and Scenes of Subjection. A MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, she has been a Guggenheim Fellow, Cullman Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor at Columbia University and lives in New York.

 

__

 

UPDATE 2/10/21

 

Five Alumni and Faculty Finalists for 2021 PEN America Literary Awards

 

Finalists for the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards were announced today, and several Columbia alumni and faculty members made the list. 

 

You Will Never Be Forgotten, by alumna Mary South '14, has been shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, which carries a monetary prize of $25,000 and is judged by Professor Ben Marcus, Elizabeth McCracken, and Ingrid Rojas Contreras. 

 

Lean Against This Late Hour, translated from the Persian by alumna Idra Novey '07 and Ahmad Nadalizadeh, has been shortlisted for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, which carries a monetary prize of $3000 and is judged this year by Daniel Borzutsky, Marissa Davis, and Meg Matich '15

 

Both Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals, by English and Comparative Literature Professor Saidiya Hartman, and Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by alumnus Robert Kolker, CC '91, have been shortlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. The award carries a monetary prize of $10,000 and is being judged this year by Roxanne Gay, Thomas Page McBee, Dunya Mikhail, Eric Schlosser, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Lara Wides-Muñoz.

 

A Treatise on Stars, by alumna Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge '73, has been shortlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, which carries a monetary prize of $10,000 and is judged this year by Toi Derricotte, Brandon Hobson, Katie Kitamura, Jamil Jan Kochai, Akil Kumarasamy, and Solmaz Sharif. 

 

Winners of the PEN America Literary Awards will be announced at their virtual awards ceremony on April 8, 2021. 

__

 

Original article: 1/22/21

 

Several Alumni and Faculty Longlisted for 2021 PEN America Literary Awards

 

PEN America recently announced its 2021 PEN America Literary Awards Longlists, naming several faculty members and alumni for various awards. Nominees include: alumna and Adjunct Assistant Professor Hilary Leichter '12 for Temporary (Coffee House Press, 2020), alumna E.J. Koh '13 for her memoir The Magical Language of Others (Tin House, 2020), alumna Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge '73 for her collection of poetry A Treatise on Stars (New Directions, 2020), alumna Mary South '14 for You Will Never Be Forgotten (FSG Originals, 2020), alumna Tracy K. Smith '97 for her translation of My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree (Graywolf Press, 2020), alumna Idra Novey '07 for her translation of Lean Against This Late Hour (Penguin Books, 2020), alumna Catherine Lacey '10 for Pew (FSG, 2020), English and Comparative Literature Professor Saidiya Hartman for Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W. W. Norton & Company, 2020), and alumnus Robert Kolker (CC '91) for Hidden Valley Road (Doubleday, 2020). 

 

The PEN America Awards, which seek to recognize both debut writers and those whose work has made a lasting impact, will distribute over $380,000 in total to award winners. Distinguished faculty and alumni on this year's board of judges include Professor Ben Marcus, Professor Cynthia Cruz, History Professor Karl Jacoby, and alumna Meg Matich '15.

 

Leichter's Temporary, which has been longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, follows an unnamed protagonist working as a temp in 23 different, increasingly surreal jobs. The novel was released amid much praise from the Columbia community and was shortlisted for the 2020 First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction. Temporary was also named one of NPR's Best Books of 2020

 

Hilary Leichter has received fellowships from The Edward F Albee Foundation, the Table 4 Writers Foundation, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She teaches in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University.

 

The PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel carries a monetary prize of $10,000. 

 

Koh's The Magical Language of Others, which has been longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, is a memoir and love story told in letters. After Koh is left behind in California at 15 years old, her mother writes letters to her from South Korea. Years later, Koh finds these letters hidden in a box and begins the process of translating her mother's words, as well as unraveling the complicated histories of the women in her family. TIME calls the book "a moving portrait of abandonment, forgiveness, and the strength of maternal love," and the book was the winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award. The Magical Language of Others was released in paperback on January 19, 2021.  

 

E. J. Koh is the author of the poetry collection A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize, and co-translator of Yi Won’s The World’s Lightest Motorcycle, forthcoming from Zephyr Press. Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and World Literature Today, among others. She is completing the PhD program in English Language and Literature at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a recipient of MacDowell and Kundiman fellowships. 

 

Also longlisted for the Open Book Award is Berssenbrugge's A Treatise on Stars, which recently won Yale's 2021 Bollingen Prize for Poetry. According to The New York Times, "Berssenbrugge’s lines—saturated with the hallucinatory speed of thought—have the urgency of a manifesto; she consistently calls attention to the inter-relatedness of all things. Few living poets are as able to enter headlong into the spiritual state of our environment and its endangerment: one of the best minds in modern poetry." 

 

Mei-mei Berssenbruggee was born in Beijing and grew up in Massachusetts. She is the author of fourteen books of poetry, including Hello, the Roses, Empathy, and I Love Artists. Her collaborations include works in theater, dance, music, and the visual arts. Berssenbrugge has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two American Book Awards, a PEN West Award, and honors from the Western States Art Foundation and the Asian American Writers Workshop. She lives in New Mexico and New York City.

 

The PEN Open Book Award carries a monetary prize of $10,000

 

South's You Will Never be Forgotten, which has been longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, is a collection of ten darkly absurd short stories which explore how technology can be both a curse and a blessing. According to The New York TImes Book Review, “Mary South couldn’t have predicted our current moment, but her stories could not feel timelier . . . Each of South’s self-contained, bleak and tightly wrought chapters centers on themes of isolation, loneliness and how screens aren’t just a constant presence in our daily interactions, they’re directing them.”

 

Mary South is a graduate of Northwestern University and was awarded the Henfield Prize while at the School of the Arts. For many years, she has worked with Diane Williams as an editor at the literary journal NOON. She is also a former intern in The New Yorker's fiction department and a Bread Loaf work-study fellow. 

 

The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection carries a monetary prize of $25,000. 

 

My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree, translated from the Chinese by Smith and Changtai Bi and longlisted for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, is a collection of selected poems by Yi Lei, one of the most revolutionary poets in modern-day China. According to author Jhumpa Lahiri, "Yi Lei's astonishing poems, steeped in disquiet and desire, are at once aching and incendiary. Smith and Bi have coaxed them into English respectfully, inventively, and gorgeously...a resonant conversation between two exceptional poets." 

 

Tracy K. Smith is the author of four books of poetry: The Body's Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award; Life on Mars (2011), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Wade in the Water (2018). In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship. She has also written a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. In June 2017, Smith was named U.S. poet laureate. 

 

Also longlisted for the Poetry in Translation Award is Lean Against This Late Hour, translated from the Persian by Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh. The volume is the first selection of poetry from Garous Abdolmalekian—a highly respected Iranian poet—to be released in English. According to Booklist, the book "explores disparate yet intertwined topics of nature, politics, and personal relationships with humor, candor, and awe. The tight verses come alive with effectively simple metaphors, viscerally stunning images, and carefully critical lyrics. In this bilingual edition...symmetry adds a sense of deft completion, like a silk ribbon on a carefully wrapped gift.” 

 

Idra Novey is a novelist, poet, and translator. She is the award-winning author of the novels Those Who Knew and Ways to Disappear. Her work has been translated into ten languages and she's translated numerous authors from Spanish and Portuguese, most recently Clarice Lispector. For her poetry and translation she has received awards from the PEN Translation Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

 

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation carries a monetary prize of $3,000.

 

Lacey's Pew, which has been longlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, tells the story of a small, religious town in which a genderless and racially ambiguous person suddenly appears, throwing the town into a state of confusion and in some cases, menace. The novel was also longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Joyce Carol Oates Prize. It was also named one of Publishers Weekly's Best Fiction Books of 2020. 

 

Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels Nobody Is Ever Missing and The Answers, and the short story collection Certain American States. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship. She was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The New York Times, The Believer, and elsewhere. 

 

The PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, which is awarded on the basis of a book's "originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form," carries a monetary prize of $75,000. 

 

Hartman's Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals, which has been longlisted for PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, explores intimate life for Black women in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the 20th Century. The book examines how Black women started a cultural revolution that changed urban life. According to The New York Times, Wayward Lives is "a rich resurrection of a forgotten history....[Hartman’s] rigor and restraint give her writing its distinctive electricity and tension....This kind of beautiful, immersive narration exists for its own sake but it also counteracts the most common depictions of black urban life from this time."

 

Saidiya Hartman is also the author of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route and Scenes of Subjection. A MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, she has been a Guggenheim Fellow, Cullman Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor at Columbia University and lives in New York.

 

Also longlisted for the PEN/Galbraith Award is Kolker's Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family.The book presents the true story of a midcentury American family whose twelve children were all diagnosed with schizophrenia and thus became instrumental in science's attempts to better understand the condition. According to The New York Times Book Review, “The curse of the Galvin family is the stuff of Greek tragedy. Kolker tells their story with great compassion, burrowing inside the particular delusions and hospitalizations of each brother while chronicling the family’s increasingly desperate search for help. But Hidden Valley Road is more than a narrative of despair, and some of the most compelling chapters come from its other half, as a medical mystery.”

 

Robert Kolker is the New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls, named one of The New York Times's 100 Notable Books and one of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten Books of 2013. As a journalist, his work has appeared in New York Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, O magazine, and Men's Journal. He is a National Magazine Award finalist and a recipient of the 2011 Harry Frank Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

 

The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction carries a monetary prize of $10,000.

 

Shortlists for all PEN Literary Awards will be released in February, 2021.