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EAC’s visiting writer, Sherwin Bitsui wins $40,000 writing prize

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EAC’s visiting writer, Sherwin Bitsui wins $40,000 writing prize

By Lori Dugan

THATCHER, AZ—Eastern Arizona College’s November 16 visiting writer, Sherwin Bitsui, was awarded the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation’s Writers’ award during a ceremony at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York on October 25. Dr. Robert L. Belknap, President of the Foundation, and trustee Kate Douglas Torrey presented the ten writers with their awards. The awards, which include a $40,000 prize, have been given annually since 1985 to emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise.

Since its inception, the Whiting foundation has awarded more than $5 million to 220 poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, and playwrights. Among the past recipients who have achieved acclaim and prominence in their field are Jonathan Franzen, Sarah Ruhl, William T. Vollmann, Colson Whitehead, Jorie Graham, James McMichael, Mary Karr, Tobias Wolff, and Michael Cunningham.

“This year’s winners come from widely divergent backgrounds and their writing is reflective of their heritage and different sensibilities,” says the Foundation’s website at “The selection committee this year was struck by the daring virtuosity, the fearlessness of these writers,” said Barbara Bristol, the Director of the Writers’ Program. “In their hands we can see, for example, how poetry has become a vibrant way to talk about culture, politics and history. And it is evident that the short story is as strong and vital as ever. We look forward to seeing what they will do next.”

“I am quite overwhelmed by all the attention winning the award has given me,” said Bitsui. “All of it has been positive and I'm very happy to be included in the pantheon of writers previously given the award. There is a lot to live up to now, and I'm excited to be afforded more time to work on my new manuscript of poems. I'm also very happy to be the first Navajo author to receive the award. Hopefully I won't be the last.”

The coordinator for EAC’s Visiting Writers Series, English Instructor Tracy Lassiter said, “I’m excited for the EAC students and the Gila Valley community. We’re fortunate to have Sherwin here, and we’re lucky that the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the College, and the EAC Alumni Association support such artistic programming.”

Bitsui’s visit will begin with a free, November 16, 4 p.m. workshop in the Academic Programs building, room #271; and will conclude with a 7:30 p.m. poetry reading from his collection of work in the Gherald L. Hoopes Jr. Activities Center—Gila/Galiuro Room.