Writing Program Alumna and Faculty Mia Alvar Awarded 2016 Kafka Prize

November 2, 2016

Writing Program alumna and adjunct professor Mia Alvar ’07 was awarded the 2016 Kafka Prize for her debut story collection In the Country (Knopf). It is only the second time a story collection has been given the award in the prize’s 40-year history.

The prize has been given annually since 1976 by the University of Rochester Department of English and Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies to “a promising but less established American woman who has written the best book-length work of prose fiction,” according to the university’s website. The award commemorates Janet Heininger Kafka, an editor specializing in women’s writing, who died in an automobile accident at the age of 30.

University of Rochester professor of Spanish Beth Jörgensen, a member of the jury for this year’s prize, said In the Country “stood out as the selection committee’s unanimous choice among almost 150 entries for its ability to craft a cohesive, intricately wrought world out of nine separate narratives.” She also described In the Country as a “fresh and valuable work of fiction for an English reading audience, in part because it provides insights into the rarely written lives of first-generation Filipino immigrants.”

“[Alvar] crafts a beautiful lucid prose that is what we might typically call ‘poetic,’” Jörgensen said. “Her descriptions of characters and places are both rich and economical in their use of language.”

In the Country, which took Alvar about 10 years to write, has received abundant praise and numerous awards and citations since its publication last summer. The book was named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book. It also received the 2016 PEN/Robert M. Bingham Prize, an award given to debut works of fiction that comes with a stipend of $25,000.

In her acceptance speech at the prize ceremony, Alvar said, “It’s been an incredible honor for me to accept this prize from the institute, as someone who minored in women’s studies as an undergraduate and who, from the time that I first started writing fiction, was drawn to depicting the lives of mothers, daughters, and sisters.”

She also admitted to “fangirling” about the list of past Kafka Prize recipients. Those include Toni Morrison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ann Patchett, and Nell Freudenberger.