Stanford, Calif.–Owl (Ecco, 2021) a novel by Claire Oshetsky, and The Dragons, the Giant, the Women (Graywolf Press, 2020), a memoir by Wayétu Moore, are the recipients of the 2022 award William Saroyan International Writing Prize administered by Stanford Libraries and the William Saroyan Foundation. The biennial prize honors the life and legacy of novelist, playwright and short story writer William Saroyan by encouraging and recognizing new and emerging writers.
Michael A. Keller, the librarian at Ida M. Green University at Stanford, announced prizes of $5,000 to each winner and remarked, “These two books are fascinating and clearly the result of serious creative effort. and supported by their authors that we are extremely happy. continue the tradition of recognizing these new authors, in the hope of helping them propel their literary careers.
Claire Oshetsky, winner in the fiction category, lives in California and has published works in Living room, Wiredand the New York Times. Her first novel, Owlwhich was also shortlisted for the 2022 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, deftly blends the dream of an owl, introduced in the very first sentence, with the reality of mothering a child with a congenital disease.
The San Francisco Chronicle rented Owl as “surrealism at its best” and as a book that “forces parents to consider their relationship with their children”, while the Saroyan Prize fiction judges summed it up as “a surreal, exuberant feminist tour de force on the motherhood, marriage and family.”
The fiction finalists were A sense of the whole (Orison Books, 2020), stories by Siamak Vossoughi and The Office of Historical Corrections (Riverhead Books, 2020), short story and stories by Danielle Evans. In the spirit of Saroyan’s portrayals of Armenian Americans, their stories are replete with Iranian-American, Black, and multiracial characters whose encounters and experiences resonate universally.
Wayétu Moore, winner in the non-fiction category, resides in Brooklyn and is the founder of One Moore Book, a non-profit organization that encourages reading among children in countries with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures. . His first book, She would be kingwas a novel.
The New York Times book review wrote of Moore The Dragons, the Giant, the Women“This memoir adds a vital voice to the genre of migrant literature, challenging popular false narratives that migration is optional, permanent, and always results in a better life.”
The Saroyan Prize judges said: ‘These memoirs intricately weave Moore’s stories of his family’s escape from Liberia’s first war, their reunion in Sierra Leone, their eventual immigration to the United States, the complicated life of Moore as a black woman and an immigrant in (of all places) Texas, and finally her return to Liberia, all the while trying to find her own place in the world. This is a crazy, heartbreaking, clenched-fisted, heart-wrenching quilt of one woman’s quest to find something real in a reckless, violent, cruel yet still beautiful world.
The runner-up in non-fiction was Close (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021) by Shawna Kay Rodenberg, described by her publisher as “a breathtaking memoir of a harrowing Appalachian childhood and a multi-layered portrait of a misrepresented people”.
This year’s panel of the distinguished Saroyan Prize judges included Sumbul Ali-Karamali, John Bender, Richard Holeton, Elizabeth McKenzie, Scott Setrakian and former Saroyan Award winner Lori Jakiela (2016). More than 220 volunteers, mostly members of the Stanford Alumni Association, read the applications and provided initial assessments to the selection committee.
“We are especially grateful to our judges and readers, new and old, who make the Saroyan Prize possible,” Keller said. “The notable presence of Saroyesque subjects and themes in so many of the nearly 300 entries speaks to the perseverance of the works of one of California’s and our country’s greatest writers, William Saroyan, who happened to be an immigrant from Armenia.”