On Sunday, March 24, the annual ceremony to award the PEN Hemingway and PEN New England Awards was held at the J.F.K. Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. This year I went with my dad; last year it was my mom.
As part of Tom Putnam‘s welcome, he played this funny clip from Silver Linings Playbook, an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, in which the main character flings his copy of A Farewell to Arms out the window because he doesn’t like the ending. After the clip ended, Tom Putnam told the audience that Matthew Quick, the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, the novel the movie was based on, still has his PEN/Hemingway Honorable Mention from 2009 hanging over the desk where he writes.
Each year Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s sole surviving son and his literary executor, reads something different from his father’s work. On Sunday, he read an excerpt from Torrents of Spring, a satirical work spoofing the style of Sherwood Anderson, which he described as a comedic look at war before the author of a serious novel about war, Kevin Powers, took the stage to read from The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown). Kevin Powers received the 2013 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, which recognizes a first book of fiction.
Finalists for the 2013 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award were also honored yesterday: Jennifer duBois, for A Partial History of Lost Causes (Dial Press) and Vaddey Ratner for In the Shadow of the Banyan (Simon & Schuster). Honorable mentions were awarded to Catherine Chung for Forgotten Country (Riverhead Books) and Peter Wheelwright for As It Is on Earth (Fomite Press).
Heidi Julavits won the 2013 PEN New England Award for the best work of fiction by a New England author published in 2012 for The Vanishers (Doubleday). After receiving the award, she read an excerpt, starting from here:
The attack, we later agreed, occurred at Madame Ackermann’s forty-third birthday party.
The evening was typical for late October—icebox air, onyx sky, White Mountains humped darkly in the distance, and peripherally visible as a more opaque variety of night. Because I knew that Madame Ackermann’s A-frame would be underheated, I wore a wool jumper and wool tights and a pair of silver riding boots purchased from the Nepalese import store, run by an aging WASP hippie. Hers was one of seven businesses in the town of East Warwick, New Hampshire (there was also a vegan pizza parlor, a hardware store, a purveyor of Fair Isle knitwear, a bank, a pub, and a real estate agent), a town that existed in the minds of some to provide basic material support to the faculty and students at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology—referred to locally, and by those in the field, as the Workshop.
Heidi Julavits seemed like a fun-loving person and joked about hoping the award wouldn’t be revoked because she sort of resides in New York now. To establish her “New England cred,” she told the audience that she grew up in Maine and that she had just renewed her Maine driver’s license. She added that she had made the fictional town used as the setting in The Vanishers into the kind of quirky New England town she wished Hanover, New Hampshire, where she went to college, had been. (Yes, Dartmouth).
Bernd Heinrich received the PEN New England Award for Nonfiction for Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). David Huddle received the PEN New England Award for Poetry for Blacksnake at the Family Reunion (Louisiana State University Press).
Colm Tóibín, author of The Master, Brooklyn, and other books, gave the keynote address, which is always related in some way to Ernest Hemingway. He said that, along with Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway was the greatest American writer of his day. He spoke humorously and movingly about being a daydreamy youth of 17 working a summer job at a rundown resort hotel bar in Ireland, spending his days reading a beat-up Penguin paperback edition of The Essential Hemingway, and the lightning-bolt effect this book (which included the full text of The Sun Also Rises) had on him. Colm Tóibín still owns this same copy of The Essential Hemingway, stained with sea water.