Shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize for Writing

Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success, you know.
 – William Saroyan, Armenian-American dramatist and author

Armenian-American writer William Saroyan (photo credit: Stanford Library).

Armenian-American writer William Saroyan (photo credit: Stanford Library).

Just a short message to say that the Stanford University Libraries sent a press release last Tuesday, May 3rd, announcing the shortlist for the Seventh William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. The biannual prize listed 15 books in the fiction category and 15 books in the nonfiction category. My novel, A Village in the Fields, was among the shortlisted novels.

Especially given the company of critically acclaimed and lauded writers whose books were also shortlisted, I am nothing but honored and humbled. Saroyan was born, raised, and passed away in Fresno, Calif., which was about an hour north of where I grew up in Terra Bella. So we share the immigrant experience in the rich agricultural Central Valley. In fact, his generation was my father’s generation, and I grew up reading a little bit of Saroyan in college. It was just enough to feel that he captured that immigrant life – one of immediacy and of hope – so well. And though the world he painted was right in my neighborhood, so to speak, he wrote in a style that was at once dreamy and ethereal but grounded and tangible.

According to the press release, “the awards are intended to encourage new or emerging writers and honor the Saroyan literary legacy of originality, vitality and stylistic innovation. The Saroyan Prize recognizes newly published works of both fiction and non-fiction.”

This year’s judging panel for fiction consists of award-winning authors Sumbul Ali-Karamali, Heidi Durrow, and Elizabeth McKenzie. The winner and finalists will be announced in late summer. I can honestly say that in my heart, it is enough for me to be shortlisted. I’ve made great strides getting my book noticed in the Filipino-American community and in Asian American Studies programs in a handful of universities. But I admit that it has been somewhat difficult breaking through into the literary fiction world – getting noticed and being taken seriously. Being shortlisted for this prestigious prize is validating for me, though some may argue that prizes ought not to be what validates a writer. If you have been published by a small, independent press, you would understand where I’m coming from. The prize nomination opens doors and eyes – rightly or wrongly. And the point of being a writer is to be read and to engage readers.

So whatever happens come late summer, I am pleased to just be shortlisted. Open doors. Open windows. The next step is to go forward. And keep Saroyan’s spirit in my pocket: In the time of your life, live – so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches.