Six Columbia Writers on the 2020 PEN Longlist

BY Audrey Deng, January 6, 2020

This year, six Columbia writers were included on the 2020 Pen America Literary Awards Longlist: Xuan Juliana Wang ’11, Professor Leslie Jamison, Ruchika Tomar ’12, Yvette Siegert '07, Virlana Maria Tkacz ’83 (Theatre) and Wanda Phipps ’83 (Barnard).

Wang’s collection of short stories, Home Remedies, earned a place on the longlist for Debut Short Story Collections. The twelve stories in Wang’s debut collection capture the unheard voices of a new generation of Chinese youth. A generation for whom the Cultural Revolution is a distant memory, WeChat is king, and life glitters with the possibility of love, travel, technology, and, above all, new identities. You can read an excerpt from the stunning book on The Cut.

Jamison’s book Make It Scream Make It Burn contains fourteen new essays that are by turns ecstatic, searching, staggering, and wise. The LA Times reviews it as such: “We meet a globally idolized whale, reincarnated children and online avatar junkies in a simulated web world where anyone can become a billionaire, an island owner or a parent of triplets. While the topics are adventurous, the nonfiction collection tackles the all-too-human topic of yearning and its oft-corollary, obsession. Both gurgle beneath the writer’s sonorous and captivating prose.”

A Prayer for Travelers by Tomar tells the story of two young girls who befriend each other on the California-Nevada border, until one of them disappears. The Believer says that the book is “as lethal as desert heat, but it’s not only hot—it runs warm too, attuned to the emotions and hearts of its characters.”

 

Siegert's translation of Killing Plato by Chantal Maillard was on the New York Times' list of books to look forward to last year. Killing Plato is a collection of twenty-eight poems organized around an accident: a pedestrian who has been hit by a truck and is dying in the middle of the road. Writer and cultural critic María Luisa Blanco calls this book, "A book dry and stripped – written during a grave illness – in which death and pain, without literary concessions, palpitate on each one of her page."

 

Tomar and Tkacz worked together on translating Serhiy Zhadan's What We Live For, What We Die For: Selected Poems from the Ukrainian. Their collaborative translation of the Eastern Ukrainian poet’s work has earned praise from critics around the world. Tkacz, a translator and theater director, and Phipps, an American poet, have worked on translating Zhadan for well over a decade. According to the LA Review of Books, “What makes Zhadan unique in Eastern Europe is his ability to empathize across ideological lines without compromising his ideals. The United States needs a Zhadan as much as Ukraine does.”

PEN America’s annual award recognizes exceptional literary works published in 2019, and is put together by an esteemed panel of judges. Some of the judges this year included Hari Kunzru, Camille Rankine '09, and Professor Elissa Schappell and Professor Rivka Galchen. The shortlist will be released at the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on February 26 at the NYU Skirball Center in NYC, and the winners will be announced March 2, 2020.