Rebecca Solnit Named 2021 Paul Engle Prize Winner

City of Literature award will be presented at Spring 2022 event

Rebecca Solnit has been named the eleventh 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.

The prize includes a $20,000 award and a one-of-a-kind work of art. It is typically presented during the Iowa City Book Festival, but due to continuing concerns around the coronavirus, Solnit will visit Iowa City in Spring 2022.

Solnit is a writer, historian, and activist who has written more than twenty books on feminism, environmental and urban history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, including Whose Story Is This?, Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Men Explain Things to MeThe Mother of All Questions, and the recent memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence.

She has received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at the Guardian and a former “Easy Chair” columnist at Harper’s.

Speaking about the award, Solnit said she was honored to be recognized.

“Finding out, while still on the first cup of tea, that you’ve won a prize, and it’s named after a poet, editor, and teacher passionately devoted to internationalism and the literary community, is a very good way to start the day,” she said. “To receive a prize that has gone to writers I admire so much—Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay among them—deepens my sense of the honor of being invited into the community of writers, past and present, and it encourages me to keep trying to do the kind of engaged work this prize recognizes.”

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 2019 Paul Engle Prize presented to Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricote.

The Engle Prize itself is a one-of-a-kind work of art created by M.C. Ginsberg in Iowa City. Each 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 2000, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack declared Engle’s birthday, Oct. 12, as “Paul Engle Day” in Iowa.

Previous winners of the prize are:

James Alan McPherson, a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writers’ 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 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 collectionAyiti, the novel An Untamed State, and the essay collection Bad Feminist.

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 a renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues.

Dina Nayeri, is the author of the novels A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea and Refuge. Her 2019 book, The Ungrateful Refugee, weaves together her own story of fleeing Iran at age eight with the stories of other refugees and asylum seekers in recent years. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Cornelius Eady accepting the 2019 Paul Engle Prize at the Coralville Public Library.

Toi Derricotte a poet and memoirist who is a professor emerita of writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her most recent book is i: new and Selected Poems. She is the co-founder of Cave Canem.

Cornelius Eady the author of eight books of poetry. In 2001, Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award. He is the co-founder of Cave Canem.

Dr. Eve L. Ewing, a sociologist of education whose research is focused on racism, social inequality, and urban policy, and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people. Her writing also addresses these issues.

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