Dec. 20, 2007 — Honoring the best writing to appear in its pages in the past year, the Virginia Quarterly Review today announced the winners of its annual writing prizes for 2007.
The VQR Prize Winners for 2007:
• Staige D. Blackford Prize for Nonfiction:
Philip Caputo for "Life on the Line: The Arizona-Mexico Border" (Spring 2007 issue)
Ted Genoways, editor of VQR, said: "Philip Caputo's essay about life along the Arizona-Mexico border is a perfect example of how journalism and literature can be combined to bring us not only the news, but the human impact of political decisions. Phil doesn't see things in simple terms; he doesn't caricature anyone, but also doesn't let anyone off the hook. As a result, this piece is the deepest, most probing and unsettling essay I've read on this complicated subject. There are no easy answers, but there is a lot revealed and many possibilities to pursue. To my mind, that's what the best nonfiction can do: open doors."
Caputo served in the United States Marine Corps from 1964 to 1967 as a member of the first ground combat unit to fight in Vietnam — a time described in his classic memoir "A Rumor of War." From 1968 to 1977, he served as a reporter and foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, sharing the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1972. The author of 13 books of fiction and nonfiction, his most recent novel is "Acts of Faith," set in war-torn Sudan.
• Emily Clark Balch Prize for Short Story:
Brendan Mathews for "Dunn & Sons" (Summer 2007 issue) and Helon Habila for "The Hotel Malogo" (Spring 2007 issue)
"Brendan Mathews's story is a kind of meditation on the nature of storytelling itself. It is a domestic drama built on slow revelations and focused on the intrigue of learning facts that change the way we view those unknowable people we call our family. We are especially excited by this story, because Brendan is one of our own. He served as a reader on VQR's fiction board while he was a student in the U.Va. Master of Fine Arts program. Now he is teaching and writing full time and producing top-flight work."
Mathews' stories have appeared in Epoch, Glimmer Train, Southwest Review and TriQuarterly. He recently joined the faculty in creative writing at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Mass.
"Helon Habila's story does what so much great fiction does: it opens our eyes to worlds we never knew existed, even as it pulls us along with a thrilling narrative. We see the backstreets and dive motels of Lagos, Nigeria, the effects of poor infrastructure in the form of rolling blackouts and train worker strikes, but these details serve to support a story that is, at its heart, a tale of danger and intrigue — a thriller revolving around murder for money and a young man who is willing to venture into these dangerous waters for the promise of quick fortune. The story couldn't be more timeless, but it also couldn't be rooted more firmly in its setting."
Habila is the author of two novels: "Waiting for an Angel" (winner of the Caine Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize) and Measuring Time, and the biography "Mai Kaltungo." He currently teaches creative writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
• Emily Clark Balch Prize for Poetry:
Peter Balakian for three poems in the Fall 2007 issue: "World Trade Center / Mail Runner / '71," "World Trade Center / Mail Runner / '73," and "World Trade Center / Black Holes / '74"
"Peter Balakian's poems are a striking unique and haunting take on the tragedy of 9/11. Rather than focusing on the horrors of that day, Peter's poems narrate his naive admiration for the towers when he worked there as a mail runner in the early '70s. His language is lush and exuberant — I'm reminded of Hart Crane's odes to Brooklyn Bridge or Walt Whitman's lines of praise for Broadway — but in Peter's poems, this energy is freighted with the coming loss that we see from our historical perspective. The effect is poignant without ever straying into the maudlin."
Balakian is a professor of English and the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor in Humanities at Colgate University. His most recent book of poems is "June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974–2000." His memoir "Black Dog of Fate" was awarded the PEN/Albrand Prize.
All of the prize-winning work can be viewed on VQR's Web site at www.vqronline.org.
The Emily Clark Balch Prizes for short story and poetry were established in 1955. Past recipients include Wendell Berry, John Berryman, Hayden Carruth, Carolyn Forché, Donald Hall, Mary Oliver and May Sarton. The Staige D. Blackford Prize for nonfiction, established in 2003, is named for the seventh editor of VQR who retired in 2003 after guiding the magazine for 28 years. Recipients are chosen by the editorial board of VQR. Each prize includes a monetary award of $1,000.
The Virginia Quarterly Review, one of the nation's most venerable journals, was founded at the University of Virginia in 1925 as "a national journal of literature and discussion" and boasted D. H. Lawrence and André Gide among its first contributors. T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and Thomas Wolfe soon wrote for it, as did Thomas Mann, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert Frost, Bertrand Russell, H.L. Mencken, George F. Kennan, and Robert Graves. Novelists Robert Olen Butler, Barbara Kingsolver, and T.R. Pearson are among those who were first discovered in its pages.