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Dos Passos Prize

The John Dos Passos Prize for Literature

Honoring one of the greatest--and most often ignored--American writers of the twentieth century by recognizing other writers in his name

The John Dos Passos Prize for Literature was founded at Longwood College (now University) in Farmville, VA in 1980. The prize is meant to honor one of the greatest--and most often ignored--American writers of the twentieth century by recognizing other writers in his name.

It is administered by a committee from the Department of English and Modern Languages; the chair of the committee also serves as the chair of the prize jury. Other members on the committee include the immediate past recipient and a distinguished critic, editor, or scholar.

Recipients of the prize are American creative writers who have produced a substantial body of significant publication that displays characteristics of John Dos Passos's writing: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental approach to form, and an interest in a wide rage of human experiences.

An American Icon: A Brief Biography

John Dos PassosJohn Dos Passos was born in 1896 in Chicago, the illegitimate child of parents already married to other people. He lived for years with his mother in Europe, then attended preparatory school in the United States before attending Harvard and discovering his interest in writing.

After graduating from Harvard in 1916, Dos Passos joined the war effort, becoming an ambulance driver in France; during his time there he gathered the information for his first two novels, both scathingly anti-war: One Man's Initiation (1920) and Three Soldiers (1921). Dos Passos became a social activist, publishing two more critiques of the war and another novel, Manhattan Transfer, in 1925.

After seeing the execution in 1927 of Sacco and Venzetti, two Italian immigrants, Dos Passos published the U.S.A. trilogy to establish his disdain for the moral corruption of capitalist society and his hopes for a socialist remedy. The trilogy, which consists of the novels The 42nd Parallel (1929), 1919 (1931), and The Big Money (1936), established Dos Passos's literary reputation.

Although Dos Passos grew disenchanted with left-wing politics in the 1940's, ultimately rejecting as idealistic much he had once believed, for the remainder of his life Dos Passos continued to write novels about his views of postwar America. He received the Feltrinelli Prize for his fiction in 1967.

Dos Passos died of heart failure in Baltimore, Maryland on September 28, 1970, and the world lost the man some have called the greatest American writer.


The 34th Dos Passos Prize for Literature Winner

Poet and novelist Paul Beatty 2016 Dos Passos Prize winner Paul Beatty


Contemporary author and poet Paul Beatty is the recipient of the 34th  John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, awarded annually by Longwood University.

Beatty is known for his razor-sharp wit, which he wields to skewer racial politics, hypocrisy and sanctimony in his novels and collections of poetry. His most recent work, a novel titled "The Sellout," has been widely hailed as provocative and unflinching.

The 52-year-old author came to prominence in the mid-1990s and quickly rose to the top of the ranks in the slam/spoken poetry community in New York City. He eventually broke out of that scene with his first novel, "White Boy Shuffle," which was met with near universal high praise. Though he grew beyond his roots, poetry remained a driving force in his work.

"Paul Beatty is extremely willing to play with the boundaries within fiction and to do interesting things with his prose," said Dr. David Magill, associate professor of English at Longwood and chair of the Dos Passos Prize committee. "Beatty mixes poetry, melds genres and uses humor in his narratives to ask readers to rethink preconceived notions of both form and content. He’s a wonderful writer."

Beatty’s work, which often uses biting humor to break down cultural and racial barriers, is frequently taught at Longwood in contemporary literature and poetry classes.

"The Sellout" is Beatty’s first book in seven years and marks a return to form for the novelist.

The prize, which is awarded annually by the Longwood University Department of English and Modern Languages, is named for a talented but often overlooked 20th-century American writer. The prize recognizes contemporary writers who employ themes that run through Dos Passos’ work: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental approach to form and an appreciation for a wide range of human experiences.


Past Recipients and Select Works

2015 Paul Beatty

  • The Sellout
  • Slumberland
  • Tuff
  • The White Boy Shuffle

2014 Ruth Ozeki

  • Halving the Bones
  • My Year of Meats
  • All Over Creation
  • A Tale for the Time Being

2013 Sherman Alexie

  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
  • Blasphemy
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • The Toughest Indian in the World

2012 Colson Whitehead

  • Zone One
  • Apex Hides the Hurt
  • John Henry Days
  • The Intuitionist

2011 Mat Johnson

  • Pym
  • Inconegro
  • Drop
  • Hunting in Harlem

2010 Percival Everett

  • Erasure
  • Glyph
  • I Am Not Sidney Poitier
  • Watershed

2009 Robert Bausch

  • Out of Season
  • The Gypsy Man
  • A Hole in the Earth

2008 Allen Wier

  • Tehano
  • A Place for Outlaws
  • Departing as Air
  • Blanco

2006 Kent Haruf

  • Plainsong
  • Eventide
  • The Tie That Binds
  • Where You Once Belonged

2005 Tim Gautreaux

  • The Next Step in the Dance
  • The Clearing

2004 Maureen Howard

  • GraceAbounding
  • Expensive Habits
  • Natural History

2003 Richard Powers

  • Three Farmers on their way to a Dance
  • Gain

2002 Randall Kenan

  • A Visitation of Spirits
  • Walking on Water, Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century 

2001 Madison Smartt Bell

  • The Washington Square Ensemble
  • Master of Crossroads 

2000 Jill McCorkle

  • The Cheer Leader
  • Carolina Moon

See all recipients