Claudia Rankine, Ian Buruma Take Other Top Prizes in Live Announcement at New York Ceremony

NEW YORK— PEN American Center named Jack Livings winner of the 2015 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for his short story collection The Dog at a ceremony this evening at The New School in New York City.

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, The Dog is a collection of short stories set in China, where the author lived for a short period in the 1990s. Through tales of housewives and gangsters, peasants and bankers, Livings’ debut book of fiction reveals “the vagaries and vanities of human nature, the brutish demands of collective endeavor and the austerity of freedom, and the strange occasions for compassion in societies where corruption and betrayal are the norm,” said judges Caroline Fraser, Katie Kitamura, Paul La Farge, and Victor LaValle in their citation for the award.

The Dog reminds the reader that fiction need not be autobiographical in order to be honest; it is an investigation, an act of empathy and imagination which brings the world to life,” the citation reads.

PEN announced the winners of three other awards live at the June 8 ceremony. Acclaimed poet and playwright Claudia Rankine took the PEN Open Book Award ($5,000) for Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press), a commentary on impervious racism and privilege in America that marries poetry, prose, and art. Asia scholar Ian Buruma won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War (New York Review Books), an exploration of artistic responses to violence and cruelty drawing from the experiences of artists from Germany and Japan dealing with World War II.

“Delmore Schwartz said ‘in dreams begin responsibilities,’” said Rankine as she accepted the $5,000 PEN Open Book Award, presented by ceremony emcee James Hannaham, author of Delicious Foods. “It’s my hope that in writing begins responsibility. And also that in reading begins responsibility, because it means you are willing to be part of the discussion.”

PEN’s newest award, the PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize introduced in 2015, went to Adriana E. Ramírez for her manuscript Dead Boys, which dissects the impact of heightening violence among young men in Latin America and at the U.S. border.

As the evening drew to a close, PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel paid tribute to another kind of PEN awardee that could not attend Monday’s ceremony: journalist Khadija Ismayilova, winner of the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, who has been jailed in Azerbaijan on spurious charges for six months ahead of the European Games opening in Baku on June 12.

“This award is our greatest opportunity to put on display the incredible writer-to-writer solidarity that we witness every day at PEN,” said Nossel as she implored guests to sign a letter to the government of Azerbaijan demanding Ismayilova’s release. “Let’s take the great celebration here in this room tonight to fuel an even greater celebration to come when Khadija and all writers imprisoned in Azerbaijan are freed.”

Other 2015 PEN Literary Award winners include Sheri Fink, Saeed Jones, and Burton Watson. A complete list of 2015 winners is available at https://pen.org/blog/announcing-2015-pen-literary-award-winners 

For over 50 years, the PEN Literary Awards have honored—and introduced—some of the most outstanding voices in literature across such diverse genres as fiction, poetry, biography, children’s literature, science writing, translation, and drama. With the help of its partners, supporters, and judges, PEN conferred 19 distinct awards in 2015 totaling nearly $150,000.

High-resolution photographs from the awards ceremony will be available no later than 12-noon EST Tuesday, June 9 at bit.ly/2015-pen-awards

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. www.pen.org

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