PEN is delighted to announce Ron Childress as the winner of the 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for his manuscript And West Is West. Selected by award judges Terry McMillan, Nancy Pearl, and Kathy Pories, Childress will receive $25,000 and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. 

The Bellwether Prize was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her. The award was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. This is the second year that PEN is partnering with Barbara Kingsolver and Algonquin Books to administer this prize, one that speaks so closely to PEN’s mission of celebrating emerging voices that push literary boundaries.

“I’m impressed with the ambitious scope and smart, sophisticated politics of this novel that put it squarely into the category of writing I want to reward with this prize,” noted Barbara Kingsolver. “When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. This writer can write, these characters are real, the story is crackerjack. Tying together America’s financial system and military operations through characters in a novel is such a bold move. I appreciate not only the years of labor that went into writing And West Is West, but also the dedication of our judges and everyone at Algonquin and PEN who has helped shoulder the mission of the Bellwether Prize. I look forward to the publication of the 2014 winner.”

And West Is West travels from California to New York to Florida, from America’s deserts to its cities, from military bases to art galleries to a lonely prisoner’s cell, chronicling how the average person, the person who is not pulling the levers of power, can be corrupted by systems that ask them to do questionable things. Jessica Aldridge is a drone operator for the U.S. Air Force who participates in a strike from a base in Nevada that causes civilian causalities half a world away. Ethan Winter, a quant for an international bank in Manhattan, develops a high-speed trading program that capitalizes on currency fluctuations caused by U.S.-sponsored anti-terrorist activity. Though they live in separate worlds, a moral responsibility connecting them causes their paths to cross. These and other key characters provide a kaleidoscopic view of the American experience and the moral imperatives inherent in the digital age in compelling and direct language.

Ron Childress started work in boatyards up and down the New England coast, but at nineteen enrolled in community college and went on to earn his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D in literature. Childress worked for several years as a communications manager for a professional association near Washington, DC, before joining his wife in her tech marketing agency. In 2000, he left the business to pursue long-form fiction full-time. After completing four personally unsatisfactory manuscripts, in 2013 Ron completed his fifth novel, And West is West, winner of the 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

And West Is West will be published by Algonquin Books in Fall 2015.