Debut Author Weike Wang Wins $25,000 PEN/Hemingway Award for “Elliptical Prose” in Chemistry

NEW YORK, NY—Debut author Weike Wang won the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award, honoring a distinguished first book of fiction, for her novel Chemistry (Knopf), PEN America announced today. Séan Hemingway, the grandson of Ernest Hemingway, will present the prestigious literary award to Weike Wang on Sunday, April 8, at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. This year’s judges—authors Chris CastellaniGeraldine Brooks, and Elizabeth Strout—praised Chemistry, a first-person narrative of a graduate chemist’s personal and professional indecision, both devastating and liberating, and told almost entirely in the present tense, as a “brilliant book” written in “elliptical prose, spare and clean as bone.”

Weike Wang will receive $25,000 underwritten by the Hemingway Family Prize and the Hemingway Foundation; a month-long Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers; and a residency from The Distinguished Visiting Writers Series at the University of Idaho’s MFA Creative Writing Program, and a $5,000 stipend.

“That the PEN/ Hemingway Award should be conferred upon such a young author, and one whose debut work lays bare a searing vulnerability, is a testament to the promise of her writing and its place in the literary mainstream,” said Literary Awards Program Director Nadxieli Nieto. “Given the life-changing nature of the PEN/ Hemingway Award and the trajectories of previous winners, Weike Wang is joining the ranks of some of the most groundbreaking figures in literature.”

Weike Wang is a graduate of Harvard University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry and her doctorate in public health. She received her MFA from Boston University. A “5 Under 35” honoree of the National Book Foundation and a winner of the Whiting Award, Wang currently lives in New York City. Wang joins other notable PEN/Hemingway winners and honorees including Marilynne Robinson, Edward P. Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Colson Whitehead, Jennifer Haigh, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Ha Jin, Junot Díaz, Yiyun Li, Teju Cole, and Ottessa Moshfegh—a four-decade lineage of literary excellence founded in 1976 by Mary Hemingway, the widow of Ernest Hemingway, to honor her late husband and draw attention to first books of fiction.  (See the complete list here.)

The two PEN/Hemingway runners-up are Lisa Ko for The Leavers (Algonquin) and Adelia Saunders for Indelible (Bloomsbury). Two writers will receive Honorable Mention: Curtis Dawkins for The Graybar Hotel (Scribner, Simon and Schuster) and Ian Bassingthwaighte for Live from Cairo (Scribner, Simon and Schuster). Runners-up and Honorable Mentions each receive a Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming.

The PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony will take place on Sunday, April 8, from 2 to 3:15 pm and is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending should call the Kennedy Library at (617) 514-1643 or register on-line at www.jfklibrary.org to reserve a seat.

The PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony is supported by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Hemingway Family, the Friends of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, and Mary & Kurt Cerulli.

The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career, and contains ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis described Mary Hemingway’s gift of Ernest Hemingway’s papers to the Kennedy Library as helping “to fulfill our hopes that the Library will become a center for the study of American civilization, in all its aspects.”

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The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is one of 14 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org