American novelist Colson Whitehead will be awarded the 31st annual John Dos Passos Prize for Literature at Longwood University on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Whitehead will receive the prize during a ceremony at 8 p.m. in Molnar Recital Hall in Wygal. The ceremony will include a reading by the author and be followed by a dessert reception at 9 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

"We are honored to recognize Colson Whitehead for his many contributions to American literature," said Dr. David Magill, assistant professor of English at Longwood and chair of this year’s Dos Passos Prize Committee. "Few writers can make the seemingly mundane as mysterious and fascinating as Whitehead does."

Whitehead is the author of five novels and a collection of essays, as well as a contributor to The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper’s and Granta. His novels have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

His latest novel, Zone One, published in 2011, was praised by Ron Charles in The Washington Post as a "zombie story with brains…Readers who wouldn’t ordinarily creep into a novel festooned with putrid flesh might be lured by this certifiably hip writer who can spin gore into macabre poetry…Everything comes to life…with grim comedy and desolate wisdom." Whitehead’s other novels are Sag Harbor, Apex Hides the Hurt, John Henry Days and The Intuitionist.

The John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, founded at Longwood in 1980, honors this talented but overlooked American writer of the early 20th century by recognizing contemporary writers. Recipients of the prize are American creative writers who have produced a substantial body of significant publication 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 experiences.

"Whitehead exemplifies the spirit of John Dos Passos in form and content," said Magill. "His originality of vision, diversity of focus and intensity of language make him a unique artist. From elevator inspectors to zombies, John Henry to Band-Aids, his work travels the spectrum of American culture but remains steadfast in its provocative exploration of race and American identity."

Past recipients of the Dos Passos Prize include Tom Wolfe, Shelby Foote, Graham Greene, Annie Proulx, Jill McCorkle and Maxine Hong Kingston. The 2012 recipient was Mat Johnson. The prize includes a $2,000 cash award and a medal.

The Dos Passos Prize is administered by a committee from Longwood’s Department of English and Modern Languages (EML). Primary funding is provided by the Carson and Sharon Coulter ’63 Gibb Fund held by the Longwood University Foundation Inc. Other funding is provided by Longwood’s Office of Academic Affairs, the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences and EML.

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