Alexander Chee has been named the sixth recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.
The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.
Chee will receive the prize, which includes a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 12. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public. The event will include remarks by Chee and a conversation between Chee and Iowa City novelist Garth Greenwell. Afterwards join us for a reception, sponsored by the Coralville Public Library Foundation, with light refreshments in the Library Rotunda. Prairie Lights will be selling books by Chee who will be available to sign books at the reception.
Chee, a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a Korean-American writer, poet, reviewer, and renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues. He is also a veteran of the AIDS advocacy organization, ACT UP. He lives in New York City.
His debut novel, Edinburgh, was praised for its careful handling on the difficult subject of sexual abuse. It was the winner of the Whiting Award, the James Michener/Copernicus Society Fellowship Prize, Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s Michener Copernicus Prize in Fiction, and was the recipient of the Lambda Literary Foundation Editor’s Choice Award.
His second novel, Queen of the Night, a historical novel about a female opera singer, was published in 2016, and was met with high praise. It was named it “epic” by Vogue and The Washington Post wrote that it is, “extraordinarily beautiful and dramatic, a brilliant performance.”
His essay “Girl,” which deals with gender identity, appeared in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays, and his first collection of essays, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018.
The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which is home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.