winner's circle

Meet 10 Emerging Writers Who Just Won the 2019 Whiting Award

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Joey Yee, Mark Woodward, Joey Stocks, Adrianne Mathiowetz, Jack Papanier

Every year, ten emerging writers are presented with the Whiting Award, one of the literary world’s most prestigious prizes for up-and-coming writers, and the Cut is thrilled to announce its 2019 recipients. The writers received $50,000 each as a recognition of “early-career achievement and the promise of superior literary work to come.” Previous Whiting winners include Tracy K. Smith, Mary Karr, Esmé Weijun Wang , David Foster Wallace, and Michael Cunningham, all of whom were new to the publishing industry when they won. The winners this year are once again exceptionally diverse: seven are women, two identify as LGBTQ and/or nonbinary, and seven are writers of color. Their prizes were awarded this evening during a ceremony at the New-York Historical Society, where Pulitzer Prize–winning author Adam Johnson read a keynote speech.

Read more about each writer and their latest works below. They will read at a free public event tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan with an introduction by former Whiting Award winner Alexander Chee.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Poetry

Photo: Jack Papanier

Coming of age as a trans person in rural Pennsylvania is the subject of Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s award-winning memoir in poetic verse, What Runs Over. Their latest book is All the Gay Saints, forthcoming in 2020 and winner of the 2018 Saturnalia Book Prize. They live in Philadelphia.

Tyree Daye, Poetry

Photo: Marc Hall

A Southern upbringing and “pictures of a river life” inform Tyree Daye’s award-winning poetry collection, River Hymns, which explores themes of family, life, and death in stream-of-consciousness verse. Daye is from Youngsville, North Carolina, and will release his second poetry collection, Cardinal, in 2020.

Hernan Diaz, Fiction

Photo: Jason Fulford

Hernan Diaz’s debut novel, In the Distance, was a finalist for both the 2018 Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award. In it, a young Swedish boy travels alone in the American West, trying to find his brother, and becomes a legend. Diaz edits an academic journal for Columbia University and is the author of Borges, between History and Eternity.

Michael R. Jackson, Drama

Photo: Photo by Joey Stocks

Michael R. Jackson is a playwright, composer, and lyricist. His musical A Strange Loop will premiere May 24 at Playwrights Horizons in New York with a meta premise: “Usher is a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical.” Jackson received a BFA and MFA in playwriting and musical theater writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He currently has commissions from Grove Entertainment, Barbara Whitman Productions, and LCT3.

Terese Marie Mailhot, Nonfiction

Photo: Mark Woodward

In her memoir Heart Berries, a New York Times best seller, Terese Marie Mailhot writes of her dysfunctional upbringing on a reservation in British Columbia, and a resulting mental breakdown. Mailhot earned an MFA in fiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She was recently named the Tecumseh Postdoctoral Fellow at Purdue University and lives in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Nadia Owusu, Nonfiction

Photo: Camarena Photo

Nadia Owusu is a writer and urban planner whose first book, Aftershocks, will be published in 2020 by Simon and Schuster. In So Devilish a Fire, a lyric essay chapbook, she describes growing up with a white mother and a black father. Owusu grew up in Rome, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Kumasi, and London. She is an associate director at Living Cities, an economic racial-justice organization, and lives in Brooklyn.

Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Fiction

Photo: Adrianne Mathiowetz

Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s first book, Heads of the Colored People, was long-listed for the 2018 National Book Award, among other prizes, and a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. The collection of stories “examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.” Thompson-Spires earned a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently works as an assistant professor of creative writing. @tisforthompson

Merritt Tierce, Fiction

Photo: Kent Barker

Merritt Tierce is a staff writer on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and lives in Los Angeles, where she is currently writing a book of autofiction about men, sex, writing, the internet, depression, and other themes. A waitress in a Dallas steakhouse is the protagonist of her first book, the 2015 novel Love Me Back, which was short-listed for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham prize.

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, Poetry

Photo: Courtesy of the author

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s poetry collection, Beast Meridian, is narrated by a first-generation Mexican-American girl, who is sent to an alternative school for kids with behavioral issues. Born in the Rio Grande Valley, she is a CantoMundo Fellow and currently pursuing a doctorate in English literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Lauren Yee, Drama

Photo: Joey Yee

Playwright Lauren Yee’s work is often “family-focused and sometimes provocative,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Her plays have received many prizes and honors, including the John Gassner Award for best play by a new American playwright. Born and raised in San Francisco, she received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and an MFA in playwriting from the University of California San Diego. Yee is a member of the Ma-Yi Theatre Writers Lab, a Hodder fellow at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, and a New Dramatists playwright. She lives in New York City.

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Meet 10 Emerging Writers Who Just Won the Whiting Award