2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Winners Announced

Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize Winners 2015_Lesley Nneka Arimah, Jonathan Tel, Mary Rokonadravu, Siddhartha Gigoo, and Kevin Jared Hosein - peoplewhowrite

Clockwise from top left: Lesley Nneka Arimah, Jonathan Tel, Mary Rokonadravu, Siddhartha Gigoo, and Kevin Jared Hosein

Close to 4,000 entries were in contention for the Commonwealth Foundation’s 2015 Short Story Prize, but after a winnowing to a shortlist of 22 at the end of March, the five regional winners were announced today: Lesley Nneka Arimah (Africa), Jonathan Tel (Canada and Europe), Mary Rokonadravu (Pacific), Siddhartha Gigoo (Asia), and Kevin Jared Hosein (Caribbean). Read statements about each winner from judges Leila Aboulela, Fred D’Aguiar, Marina Endicott, Witi Ihimaera, and Bina Shah and listen to the winning stories here. Each winner receives £2,500. The 2015 judges’ Chair was Romesh Gunesekera.

Six Writers Tell PEN, They Are Not Charlie

UPDATE: At the PEN Gala honoring Charlie Hebdo, and other recipients including Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle and playwright Tom Stoppard, honorees and guests asserted that Charlie Hebdo was an anti-racist organization, defended the right to secularism and “both the right to believe and the right not to believe”, and questioned the condescension some writers may express towards cartoonists. Referencing the six writers who led the absentia protest, PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said, “…for those who didn’t want to be here and didn’t feel comfortable, tout est pardonné.”

UPDATE: Rénald “Luz” Luzier, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist who sketched an illustration of the Prophet Muhammad for the publication in the immediate aftermath of his colleagues’ killings in January, says he won’t draw Muhammad again. According to the New York Times which referenced his statement on the matter to the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles, Luz says the subject “no longer interests me.”

UPDATE: Junot Díaz, Francine Prose, and Joyce Carol Oates are among a total 35 writers who have expressed the “wish to disassociate ourselves from PEN America’s decision to give the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo.”

The novelists Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, and Taiye Selasi have declined to attend PEN American Center‘s annual Gala because the organization committed to free expression has decided to laurel the controversial French publication Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. In response, a statement on PEN’s blog reads: “We will be sorry not to see those who have opted out of the gala, but we respect them for their convictions. We feel very privileged to live in an environment where strong and diverse views on complex issues such as these can take place both respectfully and safely.”

In January 2015, 12 people were murdered by a team of terrorists at Charlie Hebdo‘s Paris offices, some speculating the attack was invited because the paper’s staff was preparing a “Charia Hebdo” issue to mock Shariah Law. The tragic assassinations sparked a free speech vigil in which thousands brandished signs that read “Je Suis Charlie”.

But even as virtual supporters made #JeSuisCharlie and its English translation #IAmCharlie a viral rallying cry for absolute respect of free speech, dissenters cautioned that “hate speech” — what they believed Charlie Hebdo had engaged in with routine spoofs mostly aimed at Islam — did not deserve such protection.

In an op-ed entitled, “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo“, New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out that “If [the journalists at Charlie Hebdo] had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.” Brooks added, “it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.”

On the matter, Clarence Page opined in the Chicago Tribune, “even as I defend the heroism of Charlie Hebdo, I would be remiss if I failed to condemn its racism — as well as its sexism, its anti-theism and other attacks against targets that were in much less privileged positions to defend themselves.”

For the New Yorker, Teju Cole inveighed against irresponsible insensitivity, writing, “It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try.” Cole continued by calling out the hypocrisy in standing with Charlie Hebdo, when dissenters like John Kiriakou and Chelsea Manning suffered prison sentences for exercising their free speech rights, and Edward Snowden remains on the lam for exposing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program of U.S. citizens.

All of these points are well taken, and, as PEN blogged, could not be made publicly in an environment that threatens free — even offensive — speech.

The thing about expression, beliefs, and ideas is that they are always evolving (as they should be). Experiences inform them, even as exchange refines them. Lessons imparted by authority/respected figures in our lives join conversations, debates, and the media we choose to consume to strengthen our position, elevate it, or cause us to reconsider it. If we are not free to speak our minds, even when we may offend, we lose the opportunity to be confronted by our utter wrongness and to get right.

The terrorists’ strategy is to curtail the expression and celebration of anything other than what the terrorists believe, ostensibly to create a world in which everyone believes what they believe, but the reality is even when people believe in the same thing, they do not express or adhere to their belief in the same exact way. Where some struggle, others excel. The point of community, voluntary (religious, civic) and by default (work, school), is to grow through interaction, receiving and giving encouragement, strength, and support where necessary, and trusting that what is right and good and best for the group will prevail in the end. If we cut off communication — or kill the communicators — because we disagree, how can we ever hope to convert them?

As PEN American proceeds with its plans to honor Charlie Hebdo, the organization risks violent retaliation from the same extremists who firebombed the French paper’s offices in 2011 and massacred 12 staffers in January of this year. PEN International runs similar risk when they support writers at risk around the world. And we as writers risk our own safety if we dare to write about things or people that may offend others (as if choosing to enter this financially insolvent business weren’t risk enough). Perhaps this is the only commonality we need to share to be Charlie. That and $1,250 if you want to attend the gala to be held on May 5th, 6:30p at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History.

Yiyun Li is First Woman to Win Sunday Times Short Story Prize

Yiyun Li wins Sunday Times Short Story Prize - peoplewhowrite

Yiyun Li

Yesterday evening at London’s Stationer’s Hall, Yiyun Li accepted the Sunday Times Award for her short story “A Sheltered Woman”. She is the first woman to receive the £30,000 prize.

Judge Andrew Holgate tried to explain the inaugural recognition, saying: “I’ve been a judge for all six awards and it is fitting, after seeing so many outstanding female authors on the shortlist each year, to see a woman writer picking up this award. The entrants are read anonymously in the early stages and we have discovered some really fresh new talent over the years, including this year the newcomer Rebecca F John.”

The Bookseller points out that Li has been shortlisted for the prize before. In 2011, her story “The Science of Flight” earned the Sunday Times’ notice. She has also been laureled with the MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010, and the 2005 Guardian First Book Award for her first short story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers which was adapted into a film. Also a PEN/Hemingway Award winner, Li was named to Granta‘s list of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35 and the New Yorker’s ’20 under 40’ names to watch. She was a Man Booker International Prize judge in 2013.

Now Authors Can Self-Publish via Books-a-Million

Books-a-Million's DIY site for self-published authors_peoplewhowriteBooks-a-Million, America’s second largest bookstore chain, has entered the self-publishing business. Via the company’s new site diy.bampublish.com, authors can choose from publication packages starting at $59 to write, edit, and sell their work in ebook and/or print format on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Ingram and more. Writers can also track sales performance on the site. There’s more info on Publishers Weekly.

Adichie & Flanagan Up for Impac Dublin Award

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah shortlisted for the 2015 Impac Dublin Literary Award - peoplewhowrite

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker Prizewinning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which earned the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, have been named to the shortlist for the 2015 Impac Dublin Literary Award. Rounding out the list (whittled down from a longlist of 142 titles): Mahi Binebine’s Horses of God, Jim Crace’s Harvest, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Bernardo Kucinski’s K, Andreï Makine’s Brief Loves that Live Forever, Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, Alice McDermott’s Someone, and Roxana Robinson’s James Webb Award-winning Sparta.

The winner announced on June 17, 2015 will receive €100,000 (the prize will be split €75,000, €25,000 between author and translator if a book in translation is selected), and a trophy by the Dublin City Council. The prize was founded in 1994 to promote excellent literature written in/translated to English.  Last year, Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling, translated from Spanish to English, earned the prize.

Lynn Keller, Thomas Keymer, & Jeffery Renard Allen Among 2015 Guggenheim Fellows

Lynn Keller, 2015 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow - peoplewhowrite

Lynn Keller

The 2015 Guggenheim Fellows list is here. This year, 175 Fellows were named including Folio Prizewinner Akhil Sharma, PEN/Faulkner fiction award finalist Jeffery Renard Allen, and Los Angeles Times Book Critic David L. Ulin. Below, is a list of the writers:

Lynn Keller
Benjamin Reiss
Kenneth W. Warren

Thomas Keymer

Nicholas D. Paige
Maurice Samuels

Jeffery Renard Allen
Maud Casey
Vikram Chandra
Percival Everett
Rivka Galchen
Mary Beth Keane
Anthony Marra
Anne Michaels
Kevin Powers
Akhil Sharma

Meghan Daum
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Melissa Fay Greene
Thomas Healy
Barbara Hurd
David Lazar
Patricia Marx
Christine Montross
Alex Ross
David L. Ulin

Dan Beachy-Quick
Matthew Dickman
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Gregory Fraser
Cathy Park Hong
Cate Marvin
Bernadette Mayer
Joshua Mehigan
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Christina Pugh