Two playwrights familiar to New York audiences and two fiction writers who have appeared frequently in the New Yorker are among the 10 recipients of this year's Whiting Writers' Awards, presented last night at the Morgan Library & Museum. The awards, worth $40,000 each, are given each year by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation to "emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise." A group of around 100 anonymous nominators proposes candidates for the awards; a smaller anonymous committee makes the selections.
The two playwrights are Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose hard-hitting plays have been set in locales like Rikers Island ("Jesus Hopped the ‘A' Train"), Harlem ("Our Lady of 121st Street"), and, most recently, Purgatory ("The Last Days of Judas Iscariot"), and Bruce Norris, whose black comedy, "The Pain and the Itch," produced this fall at Playwrights Horizons, also probed an uncomfortable place, depicting a little girl with a venereal disease.
The fiction writers to whom awards were presented are Charles D'Ambrosio, Yiyun Li, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, Nina Marie Martinez, and Patrick O'Keeffe. The poets are Sherwin Bitsui, Tyehimba Jess, and Suji Kwock Kim.
This year's winners are an exceptionally diverse group. Ms. Li was born in China, Mr. Bitsui on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, Mr. Marcom in Saudi Arabia, and Mr. O'Keefe in Ireland.
Ms. Li, whose story collection,"A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," was published last year, said the award would allow her to take a semester off from teaching to work on a novel. Mr. Norris said it meant he could quit his day job: acting.
"I didn't start writing with the thought that it would be remunerative work," he said. "I did it as a hobbyist and because it was what I enjoyed doing. I always thought, ‘Well, if I need to make money, I'll make money being an actor."Now, with the award, he said, he's free to devote himself to playwrighting.
Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards have in the past gone to several writers of prominence, including Tony Kushner, August Wilson, Tobias Wolff, and Jorie Graham.