It’s been a whirlwind week at BookExpo America (BEA) for several BookPage staffers, but now that I’m back in Nashville, I thought I’d share one of my favorite moments from the conference . . . the announcement of the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction!
Barbara Kingsolver founded the Bellwether Prize in 2000 to “promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.” The prize comes with a publishing contract and a $25,000 cash prize—which was also the amount of Kingsolver’s first book advance, an amount of money that allowed her to quit her day job and concentrate on writing. The current publishing partner of the prize is Algonquin Books.
On June 5 in New York, Kingsolver talked about the genesis of the prize. Throughout her career, many people have asked the author, “Isn’t it risky to mix art with politics?” Kingsolver says the answer is “yes”—but “it is also risky to get out of bed in the morning.”
Kingsolver said: “Great art creates empathy. Is that not political? Empathy is at the heart of all civic progress.” With the Bellwether Prize, Kingsolver hopes to encourage novelists at the beginning of their careers to “be that courageous and take that risk” of mixing art with politics.
This year, for the first time, the Bellwether Prize is partnering with PEN. This was also the first year that the prize has been announced in the presence of the winner. Kingsolver says this year’s winning book “stopped me in my tracks.” The teenaged main characters “are so real, belligerent, adorable, endearing.”
Susan Nussbaum, a disability rights activist who lives in Chicago, is the 2012 winner for her manuscript Good Kings Bad Kings. A post on Algonquin’s book blog described the plot:
Good Kings Bad Kings follows the lives of residents at the ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, where friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin, all despite an atmosphere of neglect and abuse. In this alliance the residents of ILLC ultimately find the strength to resist their mistreatment and fight back. With humor and an authentic eye, Good Kings Bad Kings tells the story of their struggle for dignity and self-determination.
During the prize announcement, there were a couple of special guests present. Heidi Durrow (The Girl Who Fell from the Sky) and Hillary Jordan (Mudbound) spoke before the prize announcement about their own experiences winning the Bellwether. It was a thrill to see so many talented authors gathered together on one stage!
We’ll let you know when have more information about Good Kings Bad Kings. Do you have a favorite Bellwether winner? We also loved Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron.