Venue Details

Folger Theatre
201 East Capitol Street, SE Washington, DC 20003
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This celebration of literary excellence will feature readings by the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Winner Joseph O’Neill, Netherland, and Finalists – Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Ms. Hempel Chronicles; Susan Choi, A Person of Interest; Richard Price, Lush Life; and Ron Rash, Serena – with presentations by judges Lee K. Abbott, Randall Kenan, and Antonya Nelson. A buffet dinner will follow the ceremony.


Praised for its rich prose and articulate portraits of New York characters, Netherland examines the moods of its protagonist’s interior life — and passion for playing cricket. Hans van der Broek, the Dutch-born narrator, is dislodged with wife Rachel and son Jake, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The family becomes temporary residents of the Chelsea Hotel, one of a series of fantastically colorful locales. Disillusioned and fearing another calamity, Rachel returns to London with their son. Hans’s lives his life within convention (he is an equities analyst for a large merchant bank) but also as a seemingly destinationless journey, accompanied often by his fellow cricket enthusiast and companion Chuck Ramkissoon from Trinindad. But in as much as this novel explores the immigrant’s possibility of grasping an American dream, it also opens with the discovery of a corpse floating in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. In Netherland, Joseph O’Neill explores time, memory, separation and reunion.


Ms. Hempel Chronicles is a novel-in-stories by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. The eight gem-like chapters combine to illuminate the story of Beatrice Hempel, a young seventh grade teacher, engaged to be married and new both to teaching and to her school. Vivid scenes of Ms. Hempel’s students capture their passionate idiosyncrasies, while the universal dramas and foibles of early adolescence are rendered with humor and empathy.

In A Person of Interest, Susan Choi creates a protagonist as absorbing as he is unlikely within a plot that is pulsed with the nervy speed of a mystery, and the leisurely unfolding of interior psychological drama. Professor Lee is a cynical and reclusive math professor in a quiet Midwestern university. The novel opens as a bomb explodes in the office next door and kills Lee’s much younger, talented colleague, Dr. Hendley, a brilliant computer scientist. A Person of Interest draws loosely upon account of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, though only as a jumping off point.

Preoccupations with place and time feature prominently in Lush Life by Richard Price. This is the Lower East Side, a district Price delineates in the midst of cultural transition and monitored by the “quality of life squads” charged with guarding urban development while policing the poor and immigrant residents who’ve lived there for generations. The tension between old and new, surface transformation and the inevitability of stasis undergird Price’s masterfully realized literary noir novel.

Ron Rash is honored for a second year in a row for Serena, his fourth novel. A scathing critique of the Depression era logging industry in North Carolina, Serena tells the story of its ruthless heroine Serena Pemberton and her husband George, timber barons who strip the land and its inhabitants with rogue ambition. The violent conflict between Serena, the illegitimate son her husband earlier fathered, and the child’s mother serves as a focal metaphor for larger explorations of violence.

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