Scott Blackwood, assistant professor of literature and director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Roosevelt University, has received a $50,000 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award given annually to emerging writers based on their accomplishments, exceptional talent and promise.
Blackwood is the author of the award-winning 2009 novel, We Agreed to Meet Just Here, and the short story collection, In the Shadow of Our House. He is one of 10 writers, including four fiction writers, four poets, a nonfiction writer and a playwright, who each received $50,000 and the prestigious award on Tuesday, Oct. 25 in New York City from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. As part of the award, recipients also gave a reading of their work at New York University on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
Published by New Issues Press, Blackwood’s We Agreed to Meet Just Here tells the story of a Texas town in which several mysterious disappearances occur. The book won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs top prize for the novel, the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Best Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2010 PEN USA Award. The Whiting Selection Committee was struck by “its marvelous compression, and the elegiac, ominous yearning, the fugue of loss and love and death that pervades the book.”
“Some of my biggest writing heroes have won this award, writers of real vision, like Denis Johnson and Stuart Dybek,” said Blackwood. “It is deeply rewarding and humbling to have my name brought up among these writers and for the anonymous writers on the Whiting Award Committee to have this kind of confidence in my work.”
Since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has awarded more than $6 million to 270 writers with exceptional promise in early career. Among past recipients who have gone on to achieve acclaim and prominence, specifically in the fiction field, are David Foster Wallace, Stuart Dybek, Alice McDermott, Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, Colson Whitehead, ZZ Packer, Deborah Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eugenides, Ben Fountain, Nami Mun and Jim McManus.
“One of the greatest things about the Whiting Writers Award is that it can help focus a little bit of attention on your past and future work,” said Blackwood, whose first book, In the Shadow of Our House, was published in 2001.
As director of Roosevelt’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, Blackwood oversees a community of creative writers, whose ranks have grown to 60 fiction and non-fiction writers, and poets. A number of these students have had pieces published, and have won awards and accolades for their work.
“My hope is that this award will also bring the Creative Writing Program some attention, partly for our focus on our values,” said Blackwood, who has been building a “community of writers” at Roosevelt and who strongly believes that every writer who’s honest knows that he or she benefits from a community.
“Creative writers are not lone wolves. We’re very interdependent and the Whiting Award process, in some ways, is about this interdependence. It’s anonymous and outside the writers’ control, meaning there are no applications, no ambitious writers schmoozing for better positioning, none of that. It’s ultimately about your work and how it affects others. That is the kind of community of writers we are building at Roosevelt University and the kind of community of writers I have been fortunate to have been a part of since my writing career began.”
A native of Texas and a resident of Chicago, Blackwood is currently at work on a new novel, See How Small. Set in Austin and Chicago, it is about the effects on a community of the brutal and seemingly random murders of three teenage girls at a local ice cream shop. The novel examines the limits of human reason, the primal connection of blood, and the ways we re-imagine ourselves, or fail to, in the wake of tragedy.
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