City of Literature Paul Engle Prize

The annual Paul Engle Prize from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature 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. The prize is sponsored by the City of Coralville.

Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 – March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic.

The award seeks to recognize a writer, like Engle, who makes an impact on his or her community and the world at large through efforts beyond the page. It also seeks to raise awareness about Engle and his works.

Past recipients: James Alan McPherson, longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room; Kwame Dawes, Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, and Editor of Prairie Schooner; Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway and Queen of AmericaSara Paretsky the author behind the bestselling Chicago-based V.I. Warshawski mystery series, and Roxane Gay, professor, editor, commentator and author of the short story collection Ayiti, the novel An Untamed State, and the essay collection Bad Feminist.

2017 Paul Engle Prize

Alexander Chee has been named the sixth recipient of the Paul Engle Prize. Chee 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. 12. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public. The event will include remarks by Chee and a conversation between Chee and Iowa City novelist Garth Greenwell.

Speaking about the award, Chee said, “I am stunned by this news, and honored to be this year’s recipient. It’s an award I hope to live up to.”

Chee, a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a Korean-American writer, poet, reviewer, and renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues. He is also a veteran of the AIDS advocacy organization, ACT UP. He lives in New York City.

His debut novel, Edinburgh, was praised for its careful handling on the difficult subject of sexual abuse. It was the winner of the Whiting Award, the James Michener/Copernicus Society Fellowship Prize, Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s Michener Copernicus Prize in Fiction, and was the recipient of the Lambda Literary Foundation Editor’s Choice Award.

His second novel, Queen of the Night, a historical novel about a female opera singer, was published in 2016, and was met with high praise. It was named it “epic” by Vogue and The Washington Post wrote that it is, “extraordinarily beautiful and dramatic, a brilliant performance.”

His essay “Girl,” which deals with gender identity, appeared in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays, and his first collection of essays, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018.

2016 Paul Engle Prize

Roxane Gay was the 2016 recipient of the Paul Engle Prize. 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. In addition, 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.

2015 Paul Engle Prize

Sara Paretsky was the 2015 recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization. Paretsky is best known as the author behind the bestselling Chicago-based V.I. Warshawski mystery series, including the new novel, Brush Back. She revolutionized the mystery world when the series debuted in 1982 with Indemnity Only, a book that challenged the stereotypes of women in fiction as victims or vamps. Over the course of 17 Warshawski novels, Paretsky has crafted a tough, street-smart yet feminine heroine who allows her creator tackle social issues. The author has spent much of her career opening doors for other writers – particularly women – and assisting those without a voice. That work includes the creation in 1986 of Sisters in Crime, a group that has evolved into a worldwide organization that supports women crime writers. She currently serves as president of the Mystery Writers of America, a post she says she took to help address the issue of diversity in the genre.

 2014 Paul Engle Prize

Luis Alberto Urrea was the 2014 recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization. Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. The critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 13 books, Urrea has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays. The Devil’s Highway, his 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize.

2013 Paul Engle Prize

Kwame Dawes, Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, was awarded the 2013 Paul Engle Prize. 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.  Dawes received the prize, which includes a special plaque and $10,000, during a special ceremony at the Iowa City Book Festival.

2011 Paul Engle Prize

The first Paul Engle Award was presented to noted author and essayist, James Alan McPherson. McPherson is the author of Hue and Cry, Railroad, Elbow Room, Crabcakes, Fathering Daughters, and A Region Not Home. Elbow Room won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for 1978.

The celebration also featured, Leaner than Light: 12 Frames of Paul Engle, an audio/video adaptation of a stage play. The play was written by Lisa Schlesinger; the video was created by Lisa DiFranza and mastered by Ben Schmidt.

Click here to download the program for Leaner than Light.

“Leaner than Light” is made possible by Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Additional support provided by Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, The University of Iowa International Writing Program and The University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts.