California writer and activist Rebecca Solnit received the Paul Engle Prize from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature at a Sept. 29 ceremony at the Coralville Public Library.
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.
Solnit was recognized for her writing and activism on issues that include feminism, environmentalism, and social change. She has written more than twenty books on these and other topics, including Whose Story Is This?, Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and the memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence.
At the ceremony, Solnit shared that she had researched Engle, the longtime director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and co-founder, with his wife, Hualing, of the UI’s International Writing Program. Recent scholarship has evaluated the movement in American writing during Engle’s tenure at the workshop toward literature that espoused America’s ethos of “rugged individualism” as a contemporaneous counter to communism. Solnit pushed back on the merit of that stance, saying it is collective action that has led to societal advances in the areas she has explored in her writing, including work to combat climate change.
She was then interviewed by Cedar Rapids-based writer Lyz Lenz, author of God Land and Belabored.
The prize includes a $20,000 award and a one-of-a-kind work of art created by artist Mike Sneller with M.C. Ginsberg.
Solnit is the 11th writer to be awarded the Paul Engle Prize. To see more about the prize and a full list of past winners, please visit www.iowacityofliterature.org/paul-engle-day.