Danzy Senna, a novelist and short story author who burst onto the American literary scene in 1998 with her critically acclaimed first novel, Caucasia, will be awarded the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature this month at Longwood.
“Danzy is a writer whose work stands out for its constant focus on identity, both as an American and as a person of biracial heritage,” said Dr. David Magill, associate professor of English at Longwood and chair of the Dos Passos Prize Committee. “She challenges readers on the values of their personal identity, and explores the idea of Americanism in a similar vein as John Dos Passos.”
Senna, the 35th author to be honored, will receive the prize at a March 30 ceremony on campus. She will meet with several English classes before the award presentation.
Caucasia is a coming-of-age story about a biracial girl in the mid-1970s who struggles with racial identity in a tumultuous world. It won the Alex Award from the American Library Association and was named a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year.
Senna’s second novel, Symptomatic, a psychological thriller, was published in 2004. Since then, she has written an autobiographical work on her biracial parentage—her mother is the celebrated poet Fanny Howe and her father is an African-American scholar. She further explores the topic in her 2011 short-story collection, You Are Free.
“She is a talent on the rise,” said Magill. “Her works have all been widely praised, and there is already a groundswell of buzz about her upcoming novel. She is an exemplary author and most deserving of the 2016 Dos Passos Prize.”
The John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, founded in 1980, is named for the talented but often overlooked 20th-century American writer, best-known for his U.S.A. trilogy.
The prize recognizes contemporary American authors who have produced a substantial body of published work that displays characteristics of Dos Passos’ writing: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental approach to form and an interest in a wide range of human experience.
Past Dos Passos Prize winners include Colson Whitehead, who won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, and icons of American literature such as Sherman Alexie, Annie Proulx, Earnest J. Gaines, Shelby Foote and Tom Wolfe. The 2015 winner, Paul Beatty, won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sellout.
The prize is awarded annually by the Longwood Department of English and Modern Languages.