Professor Wes Enzinna Receives a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant
Awarded yearly by the Whiting Foundation, this $40,000 grant is presented to writers who are at an essential midway point in a multi-year book project. The grant was established in 2016 with the chief objective to foster original, ambitious projects that bring writing to the highest possible standard. The goal of the program is to bring an extra infusion of support when it can make a difference in the ultimate shape and quality of the work. The Foundation believes that each of the 2022 grantees displays singularity of voice, arresting narrative vision, and in-depth research spread over multiple years.
This year, the Whiting Foundation welcomed submissions for works of history, cultural and political reportage, biography, memoir, science, philosophy, criticism, food or travel writing, and personal essays, among other categories. Each project under submission had two first-round readers, who evaluated each for substance, narrative skill, quality of research, and impact. The nine grantees were chosen from sixteen finalists by a panel of four anonymous judges.
Courtney Hodell, Director of Literary Programs, commented, “These grantees have the courage and freshness of vision to address consequential stories hiding in plain sight. It's our hope that the Foundation's support will help these gifted writers delve into the most necessary places, whether that's in the archives, on the street, or within our understanding.”
Enzinna’s project is provisionally titled Impossible Paradise: Life, Death, and Home in a California Tent City and is forthcoming from Penguin Press. The Whiting Foundation describes the work as “[an investigation into] the causes and effects of American homelessness through the story of a single tent city in Oakland—one of the first to crop up in the wake of the 2008 recession, and one of approximately 140 that currently exist in the city. Despite the attention Bay Area homelessness has received in recent years, no one has written a detailed account of what life is like at the crisis’s epicenter: the encampments, where as many as 74 percent of the region’s unhoused population lives. The book focuses on the lives of five camp residents, exploring how they ended up homeless and narrating the challenges they face as they try to get back into housing. To research the book, the author spent more than a year visiting the encampment and at times living alongside the residents.”
The judges commented, “This eye-opening book will stand shoulder to shoulder with Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. It is a deeply reported, emotionally suspenseful account of trying to make a home in the 21st-century economy, where the author’s experience of housing precarity is braided into an exploration of the lives of others–disproportionately Black, Brown, and LGBTQ–living in the tent cities of the Bay Area. Wes Enzinna’s evocative, intelligent storytelling shatters indifference, refusing to let his reader walk heedlessly past the increasingly urgent issue of homelessness in America. His reason for writing it cuts one to the core: ‘Without honest and accurate stories, there can be no solutions.’”
A digital chapbook, featuring an excerpt from Enzinna’s work along with excerpts from the other grantees, is available for free online.
Wes Enzinna is a contributing editor of Harper's magazine, and his essays and reportage appear in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, London Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review. He has written cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and Mother Jones. His essay about traveling through Africa with two of the world’s greatest hitchhikers was a “notable” selection in Best American Travel Writing 2019 and his essay about living in a shack in Oakland was a “notable” selection in Best American Essays 2020. He is at work on a book about a California tent city for Penguin Press. For just shy of ten years he worked as a magazine editor, most recently at Harper’s, and he holds a master's degree from UC Berkeley.