Ethiopian Dinaw Mengestu wins the 2011 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature

by yeEthiopiaforums

Former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Charles Simic awarded $100,000 for lifetime achievement

Novelist Dinaw Mengestu receives $25,000 Creative Promise Prize

New York, NY, February 22, 2011  The Vilcek Foundation is pleased to name the 2011 winners of its sixth annual Vilcek Prizes honoring the contributions of foreign-born scientists and artists in the United States. The Vilcek Prize for the Arts and Humanities, this year awarded in the field of literature, is presented to acclaimed Yugoslavian-born poet, essayist, and translator Charles Simic, in recognition of his distinguished body of work. The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise goes to award-winning novelist and journalist Dinaw Mengestu, a native of Ethiopia.
The Vilcek Prizes embody the Vilcek Foundation’s mission to publicize and celebrate the accomplishments of foreign-born artists, scholars, and scientists. “The Vilcek Prizes in the Arts help us demonstrate the vibrancy immigrant artists bring to American culture,” said Marica F. Vilcek, Vice President of the Foundation, “as well as their essential role in shaping a voice that is distinctly, undoubtedly American.”

For Mr. Simic, appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2007, the Vilcek Prize comes on the heels of his most recent honor, the Robert Frost Medal, given by the Poetry Society of America. Among Mr. Simic’s many other awards are the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the Edgar Allen Poe Award, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, the PEN Translation Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship. His prolific output features more than 60 collections of poetry, translations, and essays; he is also Professor Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire and a regular contributor to publications such as The New York Review of Books. Mr. Simic immigrated with his family to America from Yugoslavia at the age of 16, and his writing often references his bleak childhood experiences during World War II. At the same time, his work is known for its mythic, humorous qualities, which, in the words of reviewer Peter Stitt, “counter the darkness of political structures with the sanctifying light of art.”

Ethiopian-born Dinaw Mengestu is the recipient of the 2011 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature. He is the author of the novels The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air. Also a journalist, Mr. Mengestu has reported on conflicts in Africa for leading publications such as The Rolling Stone and Granta. He was named to The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list in 2010; he has also received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Guardian First Book Award.

Mr. Simic and Mr. Mengestu were chosen, after months of deliberation, by juries made up of editors, publishers, agents, distinguished writers, and MFA program directors, representing such notable institutions as The New Yorker, Graywolf Press, the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshops, and The Best American anthology series.

The juries also selected four finalists for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature:
• Russian-born Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and other poetry collections;
• Yugoslavian-born Téa Obreht, author of forthcoming novel The Tiger’s Wife;
• Vietnamese-born Vu Tran, author of forthcoming short story collection This or Any Desert; and
• British-born Simon Van Booy, author of The Secret Lives of People in Love, Everything Beautiful Began After, and others.
Each finalist will receive a cash award of $5,000.

The prizewinners and finalists will be honored at the Vilcek Foundation’s annual awards presentation dinner in New York City, on Monday, April 4, 2011. Francine Prose, author and former president of the PEN American Center, will present the literature awards.

The celebration will continue the next day, Tuesday, April 5, 2011, when Dinaw Mengestu and the Creative Promise finalists will participate in a reading and Q&A panel at the Housing Works Bookstore Café (, to be moderated by Liesl Schillinger, literary critic for The New York Times. The reading is free and open to the public.

The Vilcek Prizes for the Arts are awarded alongside the Vilcek Prizes for Biomedical Science. For more information about all the Vilcek Prizes, please visit

The Vilcek Foundation aims to raise public awareness of the contributions of immigrants to the sciences, arts, and culture in the United States. The Foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the Foundation was inspired by the couple’s respective careers in biomedical science and art history, as well as their personal experiences and appreciation for the opportunities offered them as newcomers to the United States. In addition to awarding annual prizes in the biomedical sciences and the arts, the Vilcek Foundation showcases the work of immigrant artists, performers, and others at its headquarters at 167 East 73rd Street, New York City.

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