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2023 Whiting Awards recognize 10 emerging writers

Mia Chung photo by Chelcie Parry; Ama Codjoe photo by David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York; Marcia Douglas photo by Patrick Campbell; photos of all others by Willy Somma/The Whiting Foundation

The winners of the 2023 Whiting Awards might not have many, or any, well-known titles to their name — but that's the point.

The recipients of the $50,000 prize, which were announced on Wednesday evening, show an exceeding amount of talent and promise, according to the prize's judges. The Whiting Awards aim to "recognize excellence and promise in a spectrum of emerging talent, giving most winners their first chance to devote themselves full time to their own writing, or to take bold new risks in their work," the Whiting Foundation noted in a press release.

The Whiting Awards stand as one of the most esteemed and largest monetary gifts for emerging writers. Since its founding in 1985, recipients such as Ocean Vuong, Colson Whitehead, Sigrid Nunez, Alice McDermott, Jia Tolentino and Ling Ma have catapulted into successful careers or gone on to win countless other prestigious prizes including Pulitzers, National Book Awards, and Tony Awards.

"Every year we look to the new Whiting Award winners, writing fearlessly at the edge of imagination, to reveal the pathways of our thought and our acts before we know them ourselves," said Courtney Hodell, director of literary programs. "The prize is meant to create a space of ease in which such transforming work can be made."

The ceremony will include a keynote address by Pulitzer Prize winner and PEN president Ayad Akhtar.

The winners of the 2023 Whiting Awards, with commentary from the Whiting Foundation, are:

Tommye Blount (poetry), whose collection, Fantasia for the Man in Blue, "plunges into characters like a miner with a headlamp; desire, wit, and a dose of menace temper his precision."

Mia Chung (drama), author of the play Catch as Catch Can, whose plays are "a theatrical hall of mirrors that catch and fracture layers of sympathy and trust."

Ama Codjoe (poetry), author of Bluest Nude, whose poems "bring folkloric eros and lyric precision to Black women's experience."

Marcia Douglas (fiction), author of The Marvellous Equations of the Dread, who "creates a speculative ancestral project that samples and remixes the living and dead into a startling sonic fabric."

Sidik Fofana (fiction), author of Stories from the Tenants Downstairs, who "hears voices with a reporter's careful ear but records them with a fiction writer's unguarded heart."

Carribean Fragoza (fiction), author of Eat the Mouth That Feeds You, whose short stories "meld gothic horror with the loved and resented rhythms of ordinary life, unfolding the complex interiority of her Chicanx characters."

R. Kikuo Johnson (fiction), author of No One Else, a writer and illustrator — the first graphic novelist to be recognized by the award — who "stitches a gentle seam along the frayed edges of three generations in a family in Hawaii."

Linda Kinstler (nonfiction), a contributing writer for The Economist's 1843 Magazine, whose reportage "bristles with eagerness, moving like the spy thrillers she tips her hat to."

Stephania Taladrid (nonfiction), a contributing writer at the New Yorker, who, "writing from the still eye at the center of spiraling controversy or upheaval, she finds and protects the unforgettably human — whether at an abortion clinic on the day Roe v. Wade is overturned or standing witness to the pain of Uvalde's stricken parents."

Emma Wippermann (poetry and drama), author of the forthcoming Joan of Arkansas, "a climate-anxious work marked not by didacticism but by sympathy; It conveys rapture even as it jokes with angels..."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Teresa Xie
Teresa Xie is a reporter who specializes in media and culture writing. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied political science and cinema. Outside of NPR, her work can be found in Pitchfork, Vox, Teen Vogue, Bloomberg, Stereogum and other outlets.
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