A Statement from Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Chair and Tracy B. McGillivary, President

PEN/Faulkner extends its condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd and the countless black families who have lost loved ones at the hands of the police. We stand in solidarity with activists, racial justice advocates, and other members of the community who are outraged by these repeated instances of racism, violence, murder, and abuse of public trust. This is the civil rights movement of our time, and we stand firmly behind the principles of equality and empowerment. We share the righteous indignation of those who are protesting.

As an institution that promotes the literary arts, PEN/Faulkner has a role to play. We must empower artists to chronicle these turbulent times, and we must bring those narratives and conversations into our communities. That is the tradition of literature. PEN/Faulkner commits to bringing writers and readers together to address these important issues.

In the meantime, we have curated the following reading list. As an organization, we devote ourselves to reading and self-education to better understand the fears and frustrations of marginalized communities, and we encourage others to do the same:

We are living in the most turbulent moment of this newly-formed century, but our faith in the power of the written word to transform minds and hearts is unwavering. 

Please join us in donating to The Hurston/Wright Foundation and Cave Canem, organizations that make it their mission to amplify and celebrate black voices. Other organizations working to eradicate injustice and racism include Black Lives MatterBlack Visions Collective, and CTULAll of these organizations need your support right now.

Our Video Celebration of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award

Please join us in paying tribute to our 2020 winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Chloe Aridjis’ Sea Monsters, as well as our four finalists: Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons EndPeter Rock’s The Night Swimmers; Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow; and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. We hope you’ll agree that the authors you’re about to hear from represent the full depth and diversity of an amazing year in fiction.

We want to thank everyone who has stood by us under difficult circumstances. At a time when we’re all having to maintain our distance, literature can still bring us together. By supporting PEN/Faulkner, you can ensure that we keep living up to that ideal.

You can help us keep donating free books to DC students. You can help us keep bringing authors into DC schools to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. You can help us continue to hold provocative Literary Conversations for the DC community. You can make sure that we keep being able to recognize major achievements in literary fiction.

You can make a tremendous difference for PEN/Faulkner right now. Any amount you can contribute will definitely help. This is a difficult moment for non-profit organizations everywhere, and we thank you so much for your support.

DONATE NOW: HELP LITERATURE BRING US ALL TOGETHER

Announcing the Winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction: SEA MONSTERS by Chloe Aridjis

WASHINGTON, DC—Chloe Aridjis’ Sea Monsters (Catapult) has been selected as the winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

“In these extraordinary times, the written word has never been so important or healing,” said Louis Bayard, PEN/Faulkner Awards Committee Chair. “Sea Monsters, along with our other four finalists, exemplifies the richness, artistry, and diversity of the American literary landscape.”

This year’s judges—Patricia Engel, Ru Freeman, and Porochista Khakpour—considered more than 400 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the US during the 2019 calendar year. Submissions came from more than 160 publishing houses, including small and academic presses. There is no fee for a publisher to submit.

“It is one thing to have a guideline to choose ‘a first among equals’ and another to have to actually accomplish it,” said this year’s judges in a prepared statement. “We did our work in full knowledge that our own long association with the publishing world as critics, writers, and readers should permit us to put our own distinctive stamp on the awarding of this prize and serve to expand its impact. The responsibility of anointing one book meant, therefore, having long and illuminating discussions around the fact that equality contains two significant words, ‘equal’ and ‘quality,’ and to wrestle with both simultaneously. Our strenuous advocacy for a first-ever long-list stemmed from our commitment to elevate the ten exceptional books and their creators whose enormous talents belong in the often insular North American literary tradition. Each of our five finalists deserves the prize for the ways they opened new veins of investigation in terms of craft, theme, and voice. Each book moved and inspired us deeply and is a cause for celebration. It is a testament to the fairness of this process that we explored every possible reason to award the prize to each of these writers before choosing our winner: Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis. Set against spectacular Oaxacan landscapes and full of surrealist possibilities, Sea Monsters is a stunning exploration of the ways its brilliant teenage narrator’s interior and exterior worlds are both fluid and in opposition. This dreamlike near-fable of equal parts philosophical and intellectual vigor is a book unlike any other; a true standout and a gift for these times in which we are all craving escape.”

Chloe Aridjis is a Mexican American writer who grew up in the Netherlands and Mexico. She is the author of three novels: Book of Clouds, which won the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger in France; Asunder, set in London’s National Gallery; and Sea Monsters. Chloe completed a PhD at Oxford in nineteenth-century French poetry and magic shows and was guest curator of the Leonora Carrington exhibition at Tate Liverpool. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014 and the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writers Award for 2020. Chloe is a member of XR Writers Rebel, a group of writers who focus on addressing the climate emergency. She lives in London, where she often writes for art journals.

“I feel deeply honored, grateful, and overwhelmed to receive this news, which arrives at a moment of strange, unfamiliar isolation from the outside world,” said Aridjis. “I have been carrying this story with me for 30 years, ever since living it, and never in my wildest dreams would have expected it to join such splendid company. Sea Monsters is at heart a novel about transformation, and my most fervent wish at present is that when humanity emerges from this crisis, we do so transformed, with a greater appreciation of one another, and of other species, and with a vast sense of renewal.”

The PEN/Faulkner Award is America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction. As the author of the winning book, Aridjis will receive a $15,000 prize. The authors of each of the other finalists—Yiyun Li, for Where Reasons End; Peter Rock, for The Night Swimmers; Maurice Carlos Ruffin, for We Cast a Shadow; and Ocean Vuong, for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous—will receive $5,000. Recent winners include Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi; Improvement by Joan Silber; Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue; Delicious Foods by James Hannaham; Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish; and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

All five books and their authors will be honored in a 40th Anniversary PEN/Faulkner Award Celebration tribute video that will be released on Monday, May 4. The video will include citations from our 2020 judges and appearances by all five finalist authors. Those who are interested in viewing our virtual celebration can join the organization’s email list to be notified when the video makes its debut.

ABOUT OUR 2020 JUDGES
Patricia Engel is the author of The Veins of the Ocean, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, winner of the International Latino Book Award; and Vida, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards and winner of Colombia’s national prize in literature, the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her stories have been anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and elsewhere.

Ru Freeman is a Sri Lankan and American writer, poet, and activist whose work appears internationally in English and in translation. She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and On Sal Mal Lane (Graywolf, 2013), a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book. She is the editor of the anthology Extraordinary Rendition: American Writers on Palestine (2015) and co-editor of Indivisible: Global Leaders on Shared Security (2018). She writes for the UK Guardian, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe and blogs for the Huffington Post on literature and politics. She is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review and is the recipient of fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Lannan Foundation. She is a winner of the Mariella Gable Award for Fiction and the JH Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman. She teaches creative writing at Columbia University.

Porochista Khakpour is an Iranian American novelist, essayist, and writer. Her debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects (Grove/Atlantic, 2007) was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, one of Chicago Tribune‘s Fall’s Best, and the 2007 California Book Award winner in the “First Fiction” category. Her second novel The Last Illusion (Bloomsbury, 2014) was a 2014 “Best Book of the Year” according to NPR, Kirkus, Buzzfeed, Popmatters, Electric Literature, and many more. Among her many fellowships is a National Endowment for the Arts award. Her nonfiction has appeared in many sections of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Elle, Slate, Salon, and Bookforum, among many others. She has also written the memoir SICK (Harper Perennial, 2018); and the collection of essays Brown Album (Vintage, 2019). Her work has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. Her third novel, Tehrangeles, will be
published by Knopf Doubleday in 2020. Born in Tehran and raised in the Los Angeles area, she lives in New York City’s Harlem.

ABOUT THE PEN/FAULKNER FOUNDATION
The PEN/Faulkner Foundation celebrates literature and fosters connections between readers and writers to enrich and inspire both individuals and communities. We achieve that mission in three ways. We administer the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story to help call the world’s attention to literary achievements. We bring authors and free books into under-resourced DC public and public charter school classrooms to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. And we curate an annual series of Literary Conversations centered around the work of accomplished authors that are designed to inspire public discourse about deeply relevant subjects.

The 40th Anniversary PEN/Faulkner Award Celebration

Monday, May 4 at The Willard Hotel
6:30 pm, Cocktails
7:30 pm, Dinner and Award Program

Join us on the 40th anniversary of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction as we celebrate this year’s distinguished books and authors. This exquisite literary evening—our sole fundraiser in 2020—will feature presentations by our PEN/Faulkner Award judges, original readings by our five PEN/Faulkner Award finalists, and a star-studded list of notable guest authors from throughout PEN/Faulkner’s storied history.

The Board of Directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation invites your generous participation as a sponsor. Your support will advance our mission to celebrate literature and foster connections between readers and writers to enrich and inspire both individuals and communities. Proceeds from this year’s Awards will provide critical resources for our initiatives, including:

  • Our Education Programs. We inspire the next generation of readers and writers by providing free books and author visits to thousands of public and public charter school students in schools throughout all eight wards of DC.
  • Our Literary Conversations. We bring dozens of writers to DC to inspire cross-cultural civic discourse about vital contemporary issues with members of the community.
  • Our Literary Awards. With the annual PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the largest artist-selected prize of its kind, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, we recognize significant achievements by leading American writers.

THE PEN/FAULKNER AWARD CELEBRATION TEAM
Meena & Liaquat Ahamed
Beth & Shalom Baranes
Lisa Barry & James Gale
Katherine & David Bradley
The Honorable Ann Brown
Molly Elkin & Ivan Wasserman
Ann & Tom Friedman
Ginny Grenham
Kay Kendall & Jack Davies
Mary & Robert Haft
Willee & Finlay Lewis
Cathy Merrill, Washingtonian
Susan Richards Shreve

OUR HOST COMMITTEE
Amy & Bret Baier
Buffy Cafritz
Wm. Randall Cone
The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation
Entravision Communications
Esther Safran Foer & Bert Foer
Julie & Jon Garcia
Renée K. & Stephen Gardner
Jay & Robin Hammer
Andrea Hatfield & Buck O’Leary
Mirella & Dani Levinas
Tracy B. & Greg McGillivary
Carol Melton & Joseph Hassett
Louisa & Bill Newlin
Malcolm & Virginia O’Hagan
Politics & Prose Bookstore
Eileen Shields-West & Robin West
Emily & Antoine van Agtmael

THE PEN/FAULKNER FOUNDATION BOARD
H.G. Carrillo, Chair · Tracy McGillivary, President

Louis Bayard, Jackson R. Bryer, Conrad Cafritz, H.G. Carrillo, Susan Coll, Molly Elkin, · Renée K. Gardner, Ginny Grenham, Mary Haft, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Dale LeFebvre, Tony Lewis, Jr., Willee Lewis, Richard McCann, Malcolm O’Hagan, Frazier O’Leary, Lisa Page, Bethanne Patrick, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Katherine Field Stephen, and Deborah Tannen

OUR FINALISTS
Chloe Arijdis
Yiyun Lin
Peter Rock
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Ocean Vuong

GUEST AUTHORS
Patricia Engel, 2020 Judge
Ru Freeman, 2020 Judge
Porochista Khakpour, 2020 Judge
Elliot Ackerman
Marie Arana
David Baldacci
Lou Bayard
H.G. Carrillo
Susan Coll
Esther Safran Foer
Lauren Francis-Sharma
Paul Goldberg
James Hannaham
Angie Kim
Matthew Klam
Julie Langsdorf
David Maraniss
Jane Mayer
Imbolo Mbue
Richard McCann
Alice McDermott
Sabina Murray
Toby Olson
Lisa Page
Susan Richards Shreve
Deborah Tannen
and more to come!

MASTER OF CEREMONIES
Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World

DOWNLOAD OUR SPONSORSHIP REPLY FORM NOW

You can also sponsor the event online or contact us directly at shahenda@penfaulkner.org or (202) 898-9063. Thank you!

Celebrating Our Education Programs

The name PEN/Faulkner may conjure images of literary delights, from dynamic authors in conversation to our prestigious, peer-juried awards in fiction and the short story. Alongside these nationally-reaching endeavors, we bring more than one hundred writers to schools across our home city of Washington, DC every year to engage students in the power of the written word.

PEN/FAULKNER’S EDUCATION PROGRAMS AT A GLANCE

For more than 30 years, our Writers in Schools program has personalized literary
expression by bringing renowned authors to classrooms in some of the city’s lowest-performing schools. We donate a copy of each writer’s book to every student in each
classroom we visit, and students prepare burning questions ranging from “How does your experience of racism impact your writing?” to “Do you like Mambo sauce?” (a condiment specific to DC culture). When writers visit, conversations are enriching and
enlightening—for everyone. Writers sign copies of students’ books…and sometimes they get asked to sign hoodies, tennis shoes, water bottles, and even students’ arms. Young people in our education programs make genuine and meaningful connections to writers, and they often find the power to share their personal narratives as well.

In the past few years, we’ve deepened our work with young people by expanding our literacy efforts—through identity-based and language-based programming such as Nuestra Voz; by returning to schools more frequently in order to spend more time with students; and by adding writing programs both during the school year and in the summer months. We believe in expanding young people’s compassion and knowledge about the world through the written word by creating opportunities for exposure, connection, and new ways to grow.

When the winner of our recent Youth Essay Contest, Queenal Ayaba, read her personal essay about the impact violence and war in her home country of Cameroon has on her at our recent Gala, Senator Patrick Leahy sought her out after the reading. He told her she shared a powerful story, and he encouraged her to stay in touch. Author Michael
Cunningham told us how impressed he was by students in a recent visit—and how they
gave him hope for the future. And poet DaMaris B. Hill emphasized how crucial democracy is, conducting her time with students through a collective and wholly democratic approach to the discussion, all while weaving in references to Shakespeare, Angela Davis, and Ida B. Wells.

We’re honored that educators invite us to their classrooms again and again to join in the journey of learning with their students. With more than 90% of our partner schools
designated as high-poverty, the power of narrative, and the encouragement for youth to
shout their personal stories, is especially needed.

WE ARE PROUD OF WHAT WE DO

Voices from PEN/Faulkner Interns: Sabrina Sthay

This fall, PEN/Faulkner had the privilege of being joined by three amazing interns. Before they left us, they each wrote essays inspired by their time in the organization. It’s our honor to share them with you. We started with a piece by Anique Jones, continued with a piece by Demory Hobbs, and we’re wrapping up with this essay by Sabrina Sthay:

CELEBRATING DEAF AND HARD OF HEARING AUTHORS

We now live in a time in which diversity is not only crucial, but cherished in our workplaces, school systems, and even social settings. It is due to my hearing loss that I have always been fascinated by the growing attention paid toward the Deaf and hard of hearing  communities. 

I was only four when I lost my hearing, but it never stopped me from wanting to excel in the world. I knew I had my place in a world of flowing creativity and literature. I’m not the only one with such rich passions, but sadly, the fine arts and literary achievements of those who are Deaf and/or hard of hearing are not often celebrated. In honor of some of these individuals, I want to recognize them and their achievements.

Stephen Colbert 

Colbert is well known on The Late Show and The Daily Show, but he has also written three books and is an author for the Tek Jansen comic book series. What you may not have known about Colbert is that he became deaf in his right ear when he was a young boy due to a severely perforated eardrum. 

Donald Harington 

Entertainment Weekly recognized Harington as “America’s Greatest Unknown Writer.” The surrealist author of the Stay More series, Harrington has received multiple rewards, including the Oxford American Lifetime Award for Contributions to Southern Literature, The Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction, Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame, and the Porter Prize of Literary Excellence. When Harington was 12, he became ill with meningitis, which left him hard of hearing in both of his ears. Nonetheless, he pursued his writing and had a 22-year teaching career at the University of Arkansas as well. 

Marlee Matlin 

Matlin is an idol in the Deaf community. She has conquered so much! When she was nearly two years old, she became sick and lost her hearing. Today, she is not only a mother, but an actress, author, and an activist for the Deaf community and other causes. She has penned the following books and memoirs: I’ll Scream Later and Deaf Child Crossing. She also co-authored Nobody’s Perfect and Doug Cooney.

David Wright 

Wright is a South American poet who suffered from Scarlet Fever when he was seven years old. Due to his illness, he became deaf.  He has written a collection of poetry and an autobiography Deafness, A Personal Account. He has also translated The Canterbury Tales and Beowulf. 

Cece Bell 

Bell is another award-winning author and graphic novelist. Her book, El-Deafo, is based on her childhood and the struggles she encountered growing up deaf. The book was the recipient of the Newbery Medal Honor and Eisner Award. 

Sara Novic 

Sara Novic is the author of the book Girl at War, a coming of age story set in Yugoslavia. Girl at War was named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by Bookpage, Booklist, and Electric Literature. It was also the Alex Award Winner and a Los Angelos Times Book Prize Finalist, and it was Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. In a post in The Guardian, Novic talks about her progressive hearing loss, the struggle to overcome stereotypes, and the benefits of being deaf. 

The successes of these authors, who face similar challenges to me, is not only empowering and hopeful for me, but magnificent. I’m glad that as we increasingly celebrate literary diversity, we are beginning to hear the voices of Deaf and hard of hearing writers, too.

Voices from PEN/Faulkner Interns: Demory Hobbs

This fall, PEN/Faulkner had the privilege of being joined by three amazing interns. Before they left us, they each wrote essays inspired by their time in the organization. It’s our honor to share them with you. We started with a piece by Anique Jones, and we’re delighted to continue with this essay by Demory Hobbs:

UNRELIABLE NARRATORS

This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling: the stories we tell others and the stories we tell ourselves. I’ve been thinking about how these stories differ. I’ve been thinking about how we usually aren’t perfectly honest, how sometimes this is intentional and other times we don’t even realize what we are missing. And other times, we are telling the truth the best we can handle it.

In fiction, I love an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is one whose credibility is compromised, so the reader must read between the lines to uncover the truth. Just like in life, narrators are unreliable for many reasons. 

There are two broad categories for unreliable narrators: There are intentionally unreliable narrators, misleading and persuading the reader to side with their usually villainous view. (Think Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.) Then there are unintentionally unreliable narrators, whose naivety prevents them from giving the whole picture. (Think the child-narrator Jack in Room by Emma Donoghue.)

Unreliable narrators do more than entertain. This point of view can be an important literary device in illustrating the complex consequences of trauma. This is a category that lies somewhere between intentional and unintentional untrustworthiness, because the narrator is most notably hiding the truth from themselves. 

When a person experiences a traumatic event, the brain goes into defense mode. Sometimes, this means doing its best to block out the event. This is called dissociative amnesia, in which the memories of the traumatic event or details surrounding it are buried deep within the mind. This can involve small details, like not remembering how you got home after an accident. It can also be much more substantial; with childhood trauma, some survivors will have no idea something significant happened until years later. As trauma survivors look back on their lives, they have no choice but to fill in the gaps, trying to make sense to themselves and to others.

With some important life events, we recall every detail. Maybe you remember the exact tie you were wearing when you got a big promotion or exactly what you ordered at the coffee shop when you first met your significant other. So some might wonder: how can something affect your life so much if you barely remember it? The phenomenon can be hard to understand and hard for survivors to explain.

Unreliable narrators can be employed to illustrate the missing pieces between trauma and memory. With this type of unreliable narrator, readers can sense there is something untrue in the tale, but they do not feel lied to. They follow along as protagonists hide from some truths and uncover others. Every instance of trauma is nuanced, and everyone responds differently. Even so, I have broken up the use of the post-trauma narrator into three categories.

Aware Narrator, Unaware Exterior: Sometimes, the narrator remembers the trauma they have endured but is unable to retell it or accept it. This narrator depicts his trauma in a seemingly unrealistic, even fantastic, way (example: Life of Pi by Yann Martel). He may be struggling to explain within the context of the story, meaning the other characters don’t believe or understand, or he may be directly addressing the reader. The reader discerns that something terrible happened and that the narrator is struggling to cope with it. There may be a gap between the narrator’s knowledge and the reader’s, but the reader understands that the narrator is not intentionally lying but rather is working hard to relive and fully convey a painful memory. This type of narrator is useful in allowing the reader to understand how unspeakable trauma is dismissed or accepted by those outside it.

Unaware Narrator, Aware Exterior: Other times, the narrator does not remember the traumatic event or its consequences, but the characters they interact with know what has happened. This narrator will have her credibility undermined at every turn in the story, but neither the reader nor narrator know why (example: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn). This dissociative amnesia is paired with other, more obvious mental struggles. In Finn’s novel, it is diagnosed as agoraphobia, but any type of anxiety or perceived paranoia fits. What’s important for the success of works like these is that the reader knows everything the narrator knows, yet understands that this knowledge is not the whole truth. The narrator has no obvious motivation for lying but seems to be doing so compulsively. Either along with the narrator or through the other characters’ dialogue and actions, the reader is eventually able to see the trauma the narrator has blocked out, which explains the paranoia and strange behavior she has exhibited. By having the perspective of the seemingly crazy character, the reader can realize how disorienting and scary it is to think you are telling the truth and not be taken seriously.

Unaware Narrator, Unaware Exterior: A third use of the unreliable narrator to illustrate trauma is in cases when neither the protagonist nor the people around them are aware of the trauma they have experienced (example: Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower). This is an extreme case of dissociative amnesia, usually related to child abuse. In this case, the reader knows everything the narrator knows, and may pick up clues leading to the truth before the narrator realizes. The reader is on the same journey as the narrator who is struggling to understand his own mental and emotional weaknesses without a full picture of what has influenced him. The reader witnesses the pivotal moment in the narrator’s life when something causes him to remember the trauma he has closed off. In these cases, the reader is able to see how the knowledge of this trauma can shape his understanding of himself and the world even years after it has occurred.

Voices from PEN/Faulkner Interns: Anique Jones

This fall, PEN/Faulkner had the privilege of being joined by three amazing interns. Before they left us, they each wrote essays inspired by their time in the organization. It’s our honor to share them with you, starting with this piece by Anique Jones:

LOOKING THROUGH THE GLASS

A small bookstore sits between a chic & casual wine bar and Turkish café in the entrance of Georgetown. It’s atypical. There aren’t defined rows or a plethora of subjects to choose from. There are two floors, the second smaller than the one below it. It looks like a generational town-home; smells of old wood, paper, adhesive, and ink; and seems as if it had its furniture removed to accommodate a lifelong worth of wisdom. There I stand in front of a glass window that emanates a peaceful aura, looking at an elderly couple take their glasses off and put them back on to read the premises of books. In that moment it seems as if a distinct world exists behind the window, a world that escaped from a pretentious neighborhood dripping in name brands. The fluorescent store sign calls my name and, before I kn0w it, I am on the top floor with Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change in my hand.  

I flip to a random page and start reading. 

“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment.” 

Pause. What? I slide the book back into the middle of the stack. I circulate the mom-and-pop shop two, even three, times. 

*  *  *

I ended up in the same spot with the same book in my hand. Ten minutes later, I was handing the girl at the registerwho had a soothing voice, wavy brown hair, and angelic facial featuresa $20 bill.

In that moment I posed this question: How can it be possible for one to lead a beautiful life in the midst of uncertainty and change?

As I stood with the book in my hand, I entered into a period of reflection. My thoughts ruminated. It was almost as if I was looking for a definitive answer to tell me what was beautiful about a life absent of certainty and thrilled for change. In the course of my life, all I had ever experienced were the negative effects of uncertainty. As for change, that was always a complex process I had to grapple with. So, was Chödrön telling me that there was an answer to fix the troubling emotions that came with uncertainty and change, like a textbook solution or a definition to a word?

Hadn’t I just spent the entire summer meditating on books that spoke of the importance of remaining grounded in the most difficult of times, that taught me the meaning of joy, and that championed peaceful living? Hadn’t I been living alone in a studio apartment in Foggy Bottom trying to find my happy place, teaching myself how to fight destructive emotions that plagued me?  So, now, was this all wrong? I was supposed to not fight? And not remain grounded but ease into every single one of my feelings?

Yes.

Plot twist. You thought I was going to say the exact opposite of what I just said; that I was going to put up a fight against the concept of Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, but I have done neither. 

Why?

Because it was in that moment of contemplation that I was able to piece my questions and thoughts together. I realized that the decisions I have made throughout my lifetime have dictated my future, but they were all made with a leap of good faith. When I applied to ten-plus colleges, did I know which one I was going to choose? Did I know whether or not George Washington University was a good fit for me? Was I really prepared to leave my family and New Jersey behind? Could I have ever predicted that the major I intended on pursuing my degree in would change within the course of my first semester? The answer is no, no, and no.

This blog post hasn’t been written for me to thoroughly analyze all of the above. Rather, I have been interested in shedding light on a topic that perpetuates in society: that the human experience pits individuals against themselves. We live this life wanting to be certain about every decision we make: love, family, career. But the groundbreaking truth is that we will never know whether X decision was right until we have gone through the experience. Maybe it will take more than these words for that to sink in. That is okay. However, I must say that if you stop and think for one moment about your greatest life experiences and lessons, you will find how that is true.

If I had not looked through that glass window, I may have never discovered that the beauty in life rests in uncertainty, change, and the pursuit of happiness. If one thing is certain, it is that those three concepts are inevitable to the human condition. As I closed the book after reading the last page, the glass window was no longer the one from Georgetown. It was a mirror.

Past Award Winners & Finalists

Karen Joy Fowler_with Medallion2014 – Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Daniel Alarcón, At Night We Walk In Circles
Percival Everett, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell
Joan Silber, Fools
Valerie Trueblood, Search Party: Stories of Rescue

Sáenz_Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club2013 – Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

Amelia Gray, Threats
Laird Hunt, Kind One
T. Geronimo Johnson, Hold It ‘Til It Hurts
Thomas Mallon, Watergate

2012 – Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin
Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Steven Millhauser, We Others: New and Selected Stories

2011 – Deborah Eisenberg,
The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg

Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Good Squad
Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule
Eric Puchner, Model Home
Brad Watson, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

2010 – Sherman Alexie, War Dances

Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
Lorraine Lopéz, Homicide Survivors Picnic
Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs
Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor

2009 – Joseph O’Neill, Netherland

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Ms. Hempel Chronicles 
Susan Choi, A Person of Interest 
Richard Price, Lush Life 
Ron Rash, Serena

2008 – Kate Christensen, The Great Man

Annie Dillard, The Maytrees
David Leavitt, The Indian Clerk
T.M. McNally, The Gateway: Stories
Ron Rash, Chemistry and Other Stories

2007 – Philip Roth, Everyman

Charles D’Ambrosio, The Dead Fish Museum
Deborah Eisenberg, Twilight of the Superheroes
Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
Edward P. Jones, All Aunt Hagar’s Children

2006 – E.L. Doctorow, The March

Karen Fisher, A Sudden Country
William Henry Lewis, I Got Somebody in Staunton
James Salter, Last Night
Bruce Wagner, The Chrysanthemum Place

2005 – Ha Jin, War Trash

Jerome Charyn, The Green Lantern
Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Steve Yarbrough, Prisoners of War

2004 – John Updike, The Early Stories 1953–1975

Frederick Barthelme, Elroy Nights
ZZ Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Caryl Phillips, A Distant Shore
Tobias Wolff, Old School

2003 – Sabina Murray, The Caprices

Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination
William Kennedy, Roscoe
Victor LaValle, The Ecstatic
Gilbert Sorrentino, Little Casino

2002 – Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

Karen Joy Fowler, Sister Noon
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
Claire Messud, The Hunters
Manil Suri, The Death of Vishnu

2001 – Philip Roth, The Human Stain

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Millicent Dillon, Harry Gold
Denis Johnson, The Name of the World
Mona Simpson, Off Keck Road

2000 – Ha Jin, Waiting

Frederick Busch, The Night Inspector
Ken Kalfus, Pu-239 And Other Russian Fantasies
Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle
Lily Tuck, Siam, or the Woman Who Shot a Man

1999 – Michael Cunningham, The Hours

Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Brian Morton, Starting Out in the Evening
Richard Selzer, The Doctor Stories

1998 – Rafi Zabor, The Bear Comes Home

Donald Antrim, The Hundred Brothers
Rilla Askew, The Mercy Seat
Mary Gaitskill, Because They Wanted To
Francisco Goldman, The Ordinary Seaman

1997 – Gina Berriault, Women in their Beds

Daniel Akst, St. Burl’s Obituary
Kathleen Cambor, The Book of Mercy
Ron Hansen, Atticus
Jamaica Kincaid, The Autobiography of My Mother

1996 – Richard Ford, Independence Day

Madison Smart Bell, All Souls’ Rising
William Gass, The Tunnel
Claire Messud, When the World Was Steady
A.J. Verdelle, The Good Negress

1995 – David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars 

Frederich Busch, The Children in the Woods
Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River
Joyce Carol Oates, What I Lived For
Joanna Scott, Various Antidotes

1994 – Philip Roth, Operation Shylock 

Stanley Elkin, Van Gogh’s Room at Arles
Dagoberto Gilb, The Magic of Blood
Fae Myenne Ng, Bone
Kate Wheeler, Not Where I Started From

1993 – E. Annie Proulx, Postcards 

Robert Olen Butler, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Francisco Goldman, The Long Night of White Chickens
Maureen Howard, Natural History
Sylvia Watanabe, Talking to the Dead

1992 – Don DeLillo, Mao II 

Stephen Dixon, Frog
Paul Gervais, Extraordinary People
Allan Gurganus, White People
Bradford Morrow, The Almanac Branch

1991 – John Edgar Wideman, Philadelphia Fire 

Paul Auster, The Music of Chance
Joanne Meschery, A Gentleman”s Guide to the Frontier
Steven Millhauser, The Barnum Museum
Joanna Scott, Arrogance

1990 – E.L. Doctorow, Billy Bathgate 

Russell Banks, Affliction
Molly Gloss, The Jump-Off Creek
Josephine Jacobsen, On the Island
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Leaving Brooklyn

1989 – James Salter, Dusk 

Mary McGarry Morris,Vanished
Thomas Savage, The Corner of Rife and Pacific
Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Death of Methuselah

1988 – T. Coraghessan Boyle, World’s End 

Richard Bausch, Spirits
Alice McDermott, That Night
Cynthia Ozick, The Messiah of Stockholm
Lawrence Thornton, Imagining Argentina

1987 – Richard Wiley, Soldiers in Hiding  

Richard Ford, The Sportswriter
Charles Johnson, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Janet Kauffman, Collaborators
Maureen Howard, Expensive Habits

1986 – Peter Taylor, The Old Forest and Other Stories 

William Gaddis, Carpenter’s Gothic
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
Hugh Nissenson, The Tree of Life
Helen Norris, The Christmas Wife
Grace Paley, Later the Same Day

1985 – Tobias Wolff, The Barracks Thief 

Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra
Donald Hays, The Dixie Association
David Leavitt, Family Dancing
James Purdy, On Glory’s Courses

1984 – John Edgar Wideman, Sent for You Yesterday  

Ron Hansen, The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
William Kennedy, Ironweed
Jamaica Kincaid, At the Bottom of the River
Bernard Malamud, The Stories
Cynthia Ozick, The Cannibal Galaxy

1983 – Toby Olson, Seaview  

Maureen Howard, Grace Abounding
Bobbie Ann Mason, Shiloh and Other Stories
George Steiner, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.
Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
William S. Wilson, Birthplace

1982 – David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories
Richard Bausch, Take Me Back
Mark Helprin, Ellis Island and Other Stories
Marilynne Robinson,Housekeeping
Robert Stone, A Flag for Sunrise

1981 – Walter Abish, How German Is It?

Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus
Walker Percy, The Second Coming
Gilbert Sorrentino, Aberration of Starlight
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2011 PEN/Faulkner Foundation Gala

2011 PEN/Faulkner Foundation Gala

On Monday, September 26 at 6:30 PM, we’re proud to welcome a large and diverse number of respected authors to our annual benefit of readings, followed by a black tie dinner at the distinguished Folger Shakespeare Library. Each author will read work inspired by this year’s theme, “The Writing on the Wall.” Along with host Calvin Trillin, we’ve got a fantastic slate of readers for the evening, including:

  • David Remnick
  • Karen Russell
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Amy Dickenson
  • Roxana Robinson
  • James McBride
  • Kyoko Mori
  • Al Young
  • Jeanne Houston

Tickets to the Gala are $500 a person, with all proceeds from the evening going to support the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and Writers in Schools.

To purchase tickets, please contact Amanda Bregman by phone at 202.636.8740.