Mia Alvar wins $25K PEN/Bingham Prize for debut story collection ‘In the Country’

‘It is rare to find a debut of such depth and breadth’ – PEN judges

‘It is rare to find a debut of such depth and breadth’ – PEN judges

PEN America named Mia Alvar winner of the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction on April 11 at a ceremony in New York for her short story collection “In the Country.”

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, “In the Country” comprises nine stories giving voice to the Filipino diaspora as its characters reflect on their cultural identities to confront the traumas of the past and the uncertainties of the future.

“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,” judges Helon Habila, Elizabeth McCracken, Edie Meidav, and Jess Row wrote in their citation for the award.

“This book was such a private labor of love for so long, and I feel incredibly lucky that it found a team of people that cared about it almost as much as I did, if not more,” said Alvar as she accepted the prize, presented by Chair of PEN’s Awards Committee and winner of the 2004 PEN/Bingham Prize Monique Truong. “I want to acknowledge a special debt to the Filipino-American and Filipino literary community. These are poets and fiction writers and everything in between who have been working for generations out of sense of urgency and love, and not always visible rewards. I thank them for the stories they’ve told and inspired me with, and also for welcoming me so generously into their conversation—or party, more accurately.”

PEN announced the winners of three other awards live at the April 11 ceremony. Lauren Redniss won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for “Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future” (Random House). The PEN Open Book Award went to Rick Barot for “Chord” (Sarabande Books), the author’s third collection of poetry. Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose monograph on race and society “Between the World and Me” (Spiegel & Grau/Random House) has met massive critical acclaim since it was released in July, took the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. His father, Paul Coates, accepted the award on his behalf.

Alvar’s book “In the Country” was published in June 2015. She was born in the Philippines and raised in Bahrain and the U.S., according to her website, graduating from Harvard College and the School of the Arts at Columbia University. In New York, where she now lives, she was a
Writer-in-Residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She has received support from numerous writing programs including the Sarah Lawrence Seminar for Writers.

“The books, authors, subjects, and subjectivities that this year’s judges found most worthy of PEN Literary Awards are ones that give voice to the voiceless, put the marginalized in the mainstream, and tell stories untold,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “This roster of winners is a reminder that literature and art don’t flourish in a box. Literature and art live and breathe the debates, dilemmas, doubts, and divides that dog their writers and their readers. One of the most potent answers to offensive speech has always been more speech; here tonight we celebrate the power of literature as counter-narrative, an elixir that helps us discover our better selves.”

For more than 50 years, the PEN Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across such diverse fields as fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama. With the help of its partners and supporters, PEN will confer 19 distinct awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes in 2016, awarding nearly $200,000 to writers and translators. – Pen America

At the PEN literary awards ceremony held at The New School’s Theresa Lang Center.

At the PEN literary awards ceremony held at The New School’s Theresa Lang Center.

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