Chouette (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 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing administered by Stanford Libraries and the William Saroyan Foundation. The biennial prize honors the life and legacy of novelist, playwright, and short-story author William Saroyan by encouraging and recognizing new and emerging writers.
Michael A. Keller, the Ida M. Green University Librarian at Stanford, announced awards of $5,000 to each winner and remarked, “These two books are fascinating and so obviously the results of serious and sustained creative effort by their authors that we are enormously pleased to continue the tradition of recognizing such new authors, hopefully, to help them propel their literary careers.”
Claire Oshetsky, winner in the fiction category, lives in California and has published works in Salon, Wired, and The New York Times. Her debut novel, Chouette, which was also longlisted for the 2022 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, deftly blends a dream of an owl, introduced in the very first sentence, with the reality of mothering a child with a congenital disorder.
The San Francisco Chronicle praised Chouette 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 summarized it as “a surreal and rollicking feminist tour de force about motherhood, marriage, and family.”
The finalists in fiction were A Sense of the Whole (Orison Books, 2020), stories by Siamak Vossoughi, and The Office of Historical Corrections (Riverhead Books, 2020), a novella, and stories by Danielle Evans. In the spirit of Saroyan’s depictions of Armenian Americans, their stories abound with Iranian American, Black, and multiracial characters whose encounters and experiences resonate universally.
Wayétu Moore, winner in the nonfiction category, published her first book, She Would Be King, in 2018. It was named a best book of 2018 by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly, and BuzzFeed. Her writing can be found in the Paris Review, Guernica, and The Atlantic, among other publications. Moore is a graduate of Howard University, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California.
The New York Times Book Review wrote of Moore’s The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: “This memoir adds an essential voice to the genre of migrant literature, challenging false popular narratives that migration is optional, permanent and always results in a better life.”
The Saroyan Prize nonfiction judges said, “This memoir intricately weaves Moore’s stories of her family’s escape from the first Liberian war, their reunion in Sierra Leone, their eventual immigration to the United States, Moore’s complicated life as a black woman and an immigrant in (of all places) Texas, and finally her return to Liberia—all while trying to find her own place in the world. This is a crazy-quilt, heart-wrenching, fist-clenching, heart-expanding story of one woman’s quest to find something real in a reckless, violent, cruel but still beautiful world.”
The finalist in nonfiction was Kin (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021) by Shawna Kay Rodenberg, described by its publisher as “a heart-stopping memoir of a wrenching Appalachian girlhood and a multilayered portrait of a misrepresented people.”
This year’s panel of distinguished Saroyan Prize judges included Sumbul Ali-Karamali, John Bender, Richard Holeton, Elizabeth McKenzie, Scott Setrakian, and former Saroyan Prize winner Lori Jakiela (2016). Over 220 volunteers, primarily members of the Stanford Alumni Association, read the entries and provided initial evaluations to the judging committee.
“We are especially grateful to our judges and readers, both new and returning, who make the Saroyan Prize possible,” Keller said. “The noticeable presence of Saroyanesque topics and themes in so many of the nearly 300 entries is testimony to the perseverance of the works of one of California’s and our nation’s greatest writers, William Saroyan, who just happened to be an immigrant from Armenia.”