Alexander Chee Named 2017 Paul Engle Prize Winner

Alexander Chee has been named the sixth 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.

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.

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

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.

You can learn more about Paul Engle and creative writing in Iowa City by viewing the documentary,
City of Literature
.