Roxane Gay has been named the fifth recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.
The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.
Gay will receive the prize, which includes a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 6. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.
Gay has emerged as one of the strongest voices in American letters in her various roles as a writer, professor, editor and commentator. She is the author of the short story collection Ayiti, the novel An Untamed State, and the essay collection Bad Feminist. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, West Branch, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Time, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Rumpus, Salon, and many others.
It was announced in July that Gay has been chosen as one of the writers of the forthcoming Marvel comic, “World of Wakanda.” She and the poet Yona Harvey will work on the project, becoming the first black women to write for Marvel.
She is an associate professor of English at Purdue University, contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press, and co-editor of PANK, a nonprofit literary arts collective.
Speaking about the award, Gay said, “It is an unexpected but very welcome surprise to be receiving the 2016 City of Literature Paul Engle Prize. I write because I love it, plain and simple. Before my first book was published, my dream was just to publish a book, to have people read my stories and essays and, hopefully, enjoy them. It never crossed my mind to dream of anything more. To receive an award like this, to know my work is seen as valuable to the communities I work in, reminds me that the dream of writing and having my words resonate with people is more than enough because sometimes, dreams take on a life of their own.”
Gay sat for an interview as part of the City of Literature’s “Writers on the Fly” video interview series in 2013 when she was in Iowa City as part of the Mission Creek Festival. The video can be seen at www.writersonthefly.org/roxane-gay.
The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which is home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
The Engle Prize itself is a one-of-a-kind work of art created by M.C. Ginsberg in Iowa City. The piece is crafted to reflect the work and impact of the recipient, while tying it to the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.
Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 – March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the Writers’ Workshop and founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic. In addition to recognizing a writer, like Engle, makes an impact on his or her community and the world at large through efforts beyond the page, the award is designed to raise awareness about Engle and his works.
Previous winners of the prize are:
- James Alan McPherson, a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room
- Kwame Dawes, a professor at Nebraska University, editor of the journal Prairie Schooner, and author of the recent poetry collection, Duppy Conqueror
- Luis Alberto Urrea, a multi-genre author whose works include the novel Into the Beautiful North, the non-fiction work, The Devil’s Highway, and the recent poetry collection, The Tijuana Book of the Dead.
- Sara Paretsky, author of the bestselling V.I. Warshawski mystery series. She also created Sisters in Crime, a group that has evolved into a worldwide organization that supports women crime writers, and is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America.