"In the Distance" and "On Trails" win the 2018 Stanford Libraries’ William Saroyan International Prize for Writing

Press release

Headshot of author Hernan Diaz next to his book, In the Distance and headshot of author Robert Moor next to his book, On Trails.

Hernán Diaz and Robert Moor are the 2018 winners of the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.  The prize, established in 2003 by Stanford Libraries and the William Saroyan Foundation, commemorates Saroyan’s life and legacy, and just as importantly, honors emerging authors who have found a distinctive creative voice. Diaz and Moor will each receive a $5,000 award.  

Headshot of Hernan Diaz

Diaz won in the fiction category for In the Distance (Coffee House Press), which follows a young Swedish immigrant who finds himself penniless and alone in California. In search of his brother, the boy travels east against the current of emigrants pushing west, meeting naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen. Diaz defies the conventions of historical fiction and genre, offering a probing look at the stereotypes that populate our past and a portrait of radical foreignness.

In an interview with Diaz about In the Distance, the online journal The Nation wrote, The prose is as unbroken as the horizon. . . It’s as if Herman Melville had navigated the American West, instead of the ocean.”

Headshot of Robert Moor

Moor was inspired by a 2009 hike thru the Appalachian for his breakthrough book On Trails (Simon & Schuster), which claimed top seat in the nonfiction category.  Moor explores the paths that lie beneath our feet, shines a light on the many paths that connect our world, and illuminates the ways in which those paths guide our lives.

“On every scale of life,” Moor writes, “from microscopic cells to herds of elephants, creatures can be found relying on trails to reduce an overwhelming array of options to a single expeditious route. Without trails, we would be lost.”

Stanford’s Deputy University Librarian Mimi Calter, who also oversees the administration of the Saroyan Prize, was enthusiastic about the selections.  “The styles of both Diaz and Moor engage readers—differently but both effectively,” said Calter, “They are well deserving of recognition and remind us why it is important to give attention to new literary voices.” 

Finalists to Diaz and Moor include:


The Traders by Scott Shibuya Brown (Black Lawrence Press)

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (G.P. Putnam's Sons)


Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here by Angela Palm (Graywolf Press)

Shakespeare in Swahililand: In Search of a Global Poet by Edward Wilson-Lee (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This year’s distinguished panel of judges included Minal HajratwalaElizabeth McKenzie, and Abby Smith Rumsey for the fiction category and Mark Arax, Hank Saroyan, and Barbara Warnock for nonfiction.  Additionally, nearly 200 volunteers, many Stanford alumni, participated as readers for the over 200 submissions. 

Calter also offered praise for the volunteers.  “The devotion of the judges is quite admirable, in fact it is their commitment, and those of our alumni and library friends who serve as readers, that keeps this Prize moving forward,” she added.  Calter also noted how the Prize has provided great opportunities for alumni to stay connected to campus and the Libraries well after graduation.  

Two former Saroyan Prize winners have books slated for release in 2018.

Margalit Fox, the recipient of the 2014 Saroyan Prize for nonfiction, takes readers through the thrilling murder case where the creator of Sherlock Holmes channels his fictional character to become a real-life detective to exonerate a German Jew wrongly convicted of murder in Conan Doyle for the Defense.  And in October, Kiese Laymon, who received the 2014 Saroyan Prize for fiction, is set to release Heavy, a powerful and provocative memoir that explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation.

For more information on the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing visit https://saroyanprize.sites.stanford.edu/