Adjunct Mia Alvar '07 Receives Pen/Robert W. Bingham Prize
April 11, 2016
Alumna and adjunct professor Mia Alvar ’07 won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, which “honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work—a novel or collection of short stories—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.”
The prize carries a $25,000 stipend “intended to permit a significant degree of leisure in which to pursue a second work of literary fiction.”
Alvar’s collection of short stories, In the Country (Alfred A. Knopf), chronicles the lives of Filipinos in the 1970s in the Philippines and abroad.
The prize judges wrote: “Mia Alvar’s remarkable collection explores the great swath of the Filipino diaspora in nine stories of astonishing humanity. It is rare to find a debut of such depth and breadth, work singing with the grace of a thousand doomed lifetimes compressed into stories both luminous and empathic, populated by memorable characters facing such keenly felt challenges. Technically accomplished, tremendously moving, often funny: each story bursts with brilliance, speaking from the weight of history to the buoyancy of the human soul. In the Country marks both a significant contribution to literature as well as great accomplishment in the early work of an important writer.”
In an interview with Arun Rath for NPR, Alvar, who was born in the Philippines but moved with her family to Bahrain and then to the United States, said that part of her narrative objective was to investigate perceptions of Filipino workers.
“There's an overarching sense of [overseas Filipino workers] as the heroes and saints of their families, who are making this huge sacrifice — which, of course, they are — of being apart from the people they love in order to support those same people,” she said. “And I was curious about where some of these characters ... hew to that narrative and where they kind of go off script as well.”