* * *On Wednesday, December 2, 2009, Jane Ciabattari, president of the National Book Critics Circle, hosted an evening of readings and conversation celebrating the winners of the 2009 PEN Beyond Margins Awards at Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe, 126 Crosby Street, New York City. Recent Oprah Book Club pick Uwem Akpan (Say You're One of Them; Little, Brown and Company), Juan Felipe Herrera (Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems; University of Arizona Press), and Lily Hoang (Changing; Fairy Tale Review Press) read from their winning works. W. W. Norton editor Brendan Curry joined them for a panel discussion moderated by Jane Ciabattari about the pathway to critical and commercial success and how the winning titles borrow from multiple genres to create works that are vital and engaging. This event was free and open to the public.
Uwem Akpan was born in Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. After studying philosophy and English at Crieghton and Gonzaga Universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University in Eastern Africa. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. Say You're One of Them was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The collection was also nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, the Caine Prize for African Writing, and the Story Prize. It received the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, African Region, and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as a 2009 selection for Oprah's Book Club.
Juan Felipe Herrera is a Chicano poet born in Fowler, California. In addition to his 24 previously published books, his recent books are Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (Univerity of Arizona Press)--one of the New York Times Best Books of 2008 and winnter of a 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and a 2009 Latino International Award in Poetry--and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border: Undocuments (City Lights), which won the 2008 PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles National Poetry Award.
Lily Hoang's first book Parabola won the Chiasmus Press Un-Doing the Novel Contest in 2006. She is also the author of the forthcoming novels The Evolutionary Revolution (Les Figues Press) and Invisible Women (StepSister Press, 2010). She is Associate Editor of Starcherone Books.
Jane Ciabattari is a fiction writer, book critic, and widely published journalist who has reported from Brussels, Havana, Hong Kong, London, Marrakech, Paris, Rome, and Shanghai. She is the author of the short story collection Stealing the Fire, and president of the National Book Critics Circle. Her reviews and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian online, npr.org, Bookforum, The Daily Beast, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Columbia Journalism Review, Ms., and other publications.
The PEN Beyond Margins Award is one of the many ways in which PEN American Center's Open Book Program encourages racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities. The Open Book Committee works to increate the literature by, for, and about African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean, Latin, and Native Americans, and to establish access for these groups to the publishing industry. Its goal is to ensure that those who are the custodians of language and literature are representative of the American people."
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