The annual Hemingway Foundation/PEN amd Winship/PEN New England Awards ceremony is the first sign of spring for the literati in New England, according to Tom Putnam, the director of the J.F.K. Presidential Library and Museum and the host of yesterday’s event, to which I tagged along with my mother, who is a member there. (Thanks, Mom!)
Teju Cole, author of Open City, received the 2012 PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction. Yannick Murphy, author of The Call, received the Laurence L. and Thomas Winship/PEN New England Award for the best work of fiction by a New England author last year.
Each year to open the ceremony, Patrick Hemingway, sole surviving son of Ernest Hemingway and literary executor, reads something from his father’s writing. He remarked that he wasn’t sure what to read to complement Open City, a book about a doctor in his last year of training in psychiatry, but decided to read selections from his father’s notes about people he knew, as they sounded a lot like clinical observations a psychiatrist might make!
My photo of Teju Cole didn’t come out, so I’m borrowing a courtesy photo. A Nigerian-American, he joked that his winning the award might be seen as a Nigerian email scam “gone horribly right” and added that he was glad that Patrick Hemingway liked his book because he’d heard “Patrick Hemingway doesn’t bullsh*t.” He read an excerpt from close to the end of Open City, a scene set in Central Park with parachutists come out of a clear blue spring sky to land in the park, reminding the narrator of a memory from his childhood of saving another child’s life.
Finalists for the Hemingway/PEN Award, Amy Waldman (The Submission) and Stephanie Powell Watts (We Are Taking Only What We Need) also received awards.
Yannick (pronounced Yah-NEEK) Murphy turned out to be a woman, which was a surprise to me, because from the name I had assumed the author was male. (My photo of her didn’t come out either.) She joked that she came home to her house in Vermont in a bitchy mood the day the call about her winning the Winship/PEN New England Award came in, so her husband and son revealed the surprise that she would soon be getting a call about this honor and the awards ceremony would be April 1st in Boston. Instead of cheering her up, they had to argue her out of the idea that they were playing an early April Fool’s Day joke on her! The Call is a novel formatted as if it were the daily records of a rural New England veterinarian. Her reading was a little dry, making me think how much better a professional audiobook narrator would do at bringing out the humor and the subtleties of the text, but the premise of the book sounds intriguing.
Nonfiction prize winner Mitchell Zuckoff (Lost in Shangri-La) and poetry prize winner Elizabeth Willis (Address) also received 2012 Laurence L. and Thomas Winship/PEN New England Awards.
Andre Dubus III, author of a memoir, Townie, and the novel House of Sand and Fog among others books, gave the keynote address, introduced by Marianne Leone. He gave an entertaining and informative speech about Ernest Hemingway’s place in literature that made me want to read The Sun Also Rises again, even though I went off Hemingway years ago. His students at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell must love him for his vibrant presence and obvious love of literature (or else hate him for making them turn off their phones and all other digital gadgets in the classroom!)
You can see a list of past Hemingway/PEN award winners here and past Winship/PEN award winners here. If you want to feel as if you were there with me and my mom, or want to check the accuracy of my account (Writing this, I am relying almost entirely on memory, which isn’t good) the webcast will be available on the JFK Library site soon.
And, yes, I bought a book!