Dina Nayeri named 2018 Paul Engle Prize winner

Dina Nayeri has been named the seventh 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.

Nayeri 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. 4. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public.

Speaking about the award, Nayeri said, she was honored and moved by the news.

“Iowa City is where I accepted myself as a writer, as an Iranian, and also an American,” she said. “It was a place of rebirth. Every day I walked into Dey House, passing the great Jim McPherson as he chatted with my classmates and I felt lucky. I read his work and tried to find the courage to talk to him about it. To be named to an award that he inaugurated in his final decade makes me feel a part of something beautiful and important. I hope I can inspire half as much joy and resolve as that brilliant man inspired in me.”

Nayeri is a novelist, essayist and activist who has written extensively about the life and challenges of refugees. She has published two novels. Her debut, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, was released in 2013 and translated to 14 foreign languages. Her second novel, Refuge, was released in 2017 and was a New York Times editor’s choice. Her acclaimed essay “The Ungrateful Refugee,” was published in The Guardian as a Long Read in 2017 and was anthologized in The Displaced, a collection edited by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Than Nguyen.

She holds a BA from Princeton, an MBA and Master of Education, both from Harvard, and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow and Teaching Writing Fellow. She lives in London.

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.
  • Roxane Gay, 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 new memoir, Hunger. She has won numerous awards for her writing.
  • Alexander Chee, a writer, teacher and activist. He is the author of the novels Edinburgh and Queen of the Night, as well as the memoir How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Chee is renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues
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