July 31, 2018
Fall for the Book announces a new award for writing by immigrants
by Michael Barron
We are, as we always have been, a nation of immigration. According to Jie Zong, Jeanne Batalova, and Jeffrey Hallock of the Migration Policy Institute, almost 14% of all people living in America were born in another country and without American citizenship. And according to World Atlas, in 2015 alone, over one million people immigrated to this country. That’s a hell of a lot of people. And really, it’s not a surprising that more than a few of them would be writers.
Now, as Publishers Weekly notes, the best of immigrant literature is about to be recognized. For its first New American Voices Award, George Mason University’s Institute for Immigration Research has chosen works by three writers—Hernán Díaz (an Argentine Swede), Renee Macalino Rutledge (a naturalized Philippine-American), and Elena Georgiou (an English-Cypriot)—who have come to call the United States home.
In a interview with Joel Pickney for the Paris Review Daily, Díaz, describes how foreignness and migration informed his book In the Distance:
“I was born in Argentina, and I left when I was two years old—my family moved to Sweden. I grew up in Stockholm, with Swedish as my first social tongue, until my family moved back to Argentina when I was about nine. I didn’t feel quite at home in Buenos Aires, so as soon as I could, I left for London, where I lived for a couple of years in my early twenties. From London I moved to New York, and I’ve been here for almost twenty years now. The experience of foreignness has determined my entire life. I wanted to re-create that feeling. In doing so, I tried to transcend the obvious fact that the protagonist is a foreigner. I tried to make genre and even language itself feel foreign. But at the same time, this is a very American story, which makes us remember that foreignness is part of the American experience to begin with. All of that is weaved into the book, and it’s central to what I was trying to say.”
The Publishers Weekly report continues: “The New American Voices award is co-presented by Fall for the Book, one of Northern Virginia’s oldest literary festivals, in order to ‘illuminate the complexity of human experience as told by immigrants, whose work is historically underrepresented in writing and publishing.’”
The judges were the Nigerian writer and GMU creative writing professor Helon Habila, Canadian writer Madeleine Thien, and Ethopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste.
The winner of the prize will be named in a ceremony at George Mason on October 11, the opening night of the festival.
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.