Since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has given $50,000 to each of 10 emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama every year. Previous recipients of the Whiting Awards include Esmé Weijun Wang (2018), Alexander Chee (2003), and Colson Whitehead (2000).
This year's winners were revealed at a ceremony on March 20. And here they are!
Kayleb Rae Candrilli, for poetry
Kayleb Rae Candrilli is author of What Runs Over and the winner of the 2016 Pamet River Prize from YesYes Books. They are also author of All the Gay Saints, forthcoming in 2020, and the winner of the 2018 Saturnalia Book Prize. Candrilli is published or forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, Booth, Rhino, among others. Candrilli was a 2015 Lambda literary emerging fellow in nonfiction and a 2017 fellow in poetry. They live in Philadelphia.
Tyree Daye, for poetry
Tyree Daye is a poet from Youngsville, North Carolina. He is the author of two poetry collections: River Hymns, 2017 APR/Honickman First Book Prize winner; and Cardinal, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2020. Daye is a 2017 Ruth Lilly finalist and Cave Canem fellow. Daye’s work has been published in Prairie Schooner, the New York Times, and Nashville Review. He won the 2019 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes fellowship, is the 2018–19 Diana and Simon Raab writer-in-residence, and is a 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist.
Hernan Diaz, for fiction
Hernan Diaz edits an academic journal for Columbia University and is the author of Borges, Between History and Eternity (Bloomsbury, 2012). His first novel, In the Distance, was a Publishers Weekly top-10 book of 2017; he was a finalist
for the 2018 PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His fiction has been published by the Kenyon Review, Playboy, Granta, and the Paris Review.
Michael R. Jackson, for drama
Michael R. Jackson holds a BFA and MFA in playwriting and musical theatre writing from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. As a songwriter, he has seen his work performed everywhere from Joe’s Pub to the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. He wrote lyrics and cowrote book for the musical adaptation of the 2007 horror film Teeth with composer and cowriter Anna K. Jacobs. He wrote book, music, and lyrics for the musicals White Girl in Danger and A Strange Loop (which receives its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in coproduction with Page 73 Productions in May 2019). He has received a 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant, a 2017 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, a 2017 ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Award, a 2016/2017 Dramatist Guild fellowship, and was the 2017 Williamstown Theatre Festival Playwright-in-Residence.
Terese Marie Mailhot, for nonfiction
Terese Marie Mailhot graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with an MFA in fiction. Mailhot’s work has appeared in the Rumpus, the Los Angeles Times, Carve magazine, and elsewhere. The recipient of several fellowships — the SWAIA Discovery Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, Writing by Writers Fellowship, and the Elk Writer’s Workshop Fellowship — she was recently named the Tecumseh
postdoctoral fellow at Purdue University and resides in West Lafayette, Indiana. Heart Berries (Counterpoint, 2018), her first book, was a New York Times best-seller.
Read a profile of Terese Marie Mailhot and the Institute of American Indian Arts here.
Nadia Owusu, for nonfiction
Nadia Owusu is a Brooklyn-based writer and urban planner. Simon and Schuster will publish her first book, Aftershocks, in 2020. Her lyric essay chapbook, So Devilish a Fire, is a winner of the Atlas Review chapbook series and was published in 2018. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times, the Literary Review, Catapult, and others. Nadia grew up in Rome, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Kumasi, and London. She is an associate director at Living Cities, an economic racial justice organization.
Nafissa Thompson-Spires, for fiction
Nafissa Thompson-Spires earned a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s “The Organist,” the Paris Review Daily, Dissent, BuzzFeed, the White Review, the LARB Quarterly Journal, and other publications. Her short story “Heads of the Colored People…” won StoryQuarterly’s 2016 Fiction Prize, judged by Mat Johnson. Her writing has received support from Callaloo, Tin House and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She currently works as an assistant professor of creative writing. Her first book, Heads of the Colored People, was
longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award, the PEN/ Robert W. Bingham Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize; and was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize.
Read "A Conversation About Bread," a short story from Nafissa Thompson-Spires' best-selling debut.
Merritt Tierce, for fiction
Merritt Tierce was born and raised in Texas and attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award in 2011 and was a 2013 National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Author. Her first book, the novel Love Me Back
(Doubleday, 2014), was shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham prize for debut fiction and won the Texas Institute of Letters' Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction. Tierce's writing has appeared in the New York Times, Oxford American, Southwest Review, and other publications. Merritt is currently a writer for the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. She lives in Los Angeles and is at work on a book of autofiction about men, sex, writing, the internet, depression, being a woman, and physicality.
Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, for poetry
Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley. She is the author of the collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017), a 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist, and winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Boston Review, The Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. She is a CantoMundo Fellow, and is pursuing her doctorate in English literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Read an essay by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal on "Vida" and Latinx characters.
Lauren Yee, for drama
Lauren Yee is a playwright born and raised in San Francisco. She lives in New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University and her MFA in playwriting from UCSD. Lauren’s work includes King of the Yees, The Great Leap, Cambodian Rock Band, Ching Chong Chinaman, The Hatmaker’s Wife, and others. She was a Dramatists Guild fellow, a MacDowell fellow, a MAP Fund grantee, and others. She is the winner of the Kesselring Prize and the Francesca Primus Prize. She has been a finalist for the Edward M. Kennedy Prize, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the ATCA/Steinberg Award, and others. The Hatmaker’s Wife was an Outer Critics Circle nominee for the John Gassner Award for best play by a new American playwright. Lauren is a member of the Ma-Yi Theatre Writers Lab, a 2018/2019 Hodder fellow at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, and a New Dramatists playwright.