NEW YORK (March 28, 2017) — University Press of Kentucky author Rion Amilcar Scott was named the winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Fiction for his book, “Insurrections: Stories,” during the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony at the New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium last night.
“I can’t believe I’m standing here,” Scott said, as he took the stage to accept the award. “I feel like I’m about to be ‘La La Land’-ed.”
Scott thanked Lisa Williams, editor of the University Press of Kentucky New Poetry and Prose series. “Insurrections” was the series’ debut title, selected from more than 120 submissions.
“I sent out the book for practice. I thought it was going to be rejected everywhere, and she believed in me more deeply than I did, and she made me believe,” Scott said.
“Insurrections” centers around the residents of the fictional Cross River, Maryland, a largely black town founded in 1807 after the only successful slave revolt in the United States.
From the podium, Scott went on to explain, “why I write the black stories that I write.”
“As long as they keep distorting and keep flattening our humanity, I want to keep responding with complexity.
“That’s my ‘Insurrection,’ and I encourage you all to do the same.”
Last night’s awards ceremony was titled “Books without Borders,” and was hosted by former “The Daily Show” correspondent, Aasif Mandvi.
The theme of crossing borders and breaking barriers through the power of words was echoed by the award presenters, recipients, and hosts of the ceremony.
In his opening remarks, Luis Jaramillo, director of The New School’s School of Writing, urged, “there are many ways of fighting oppression, and one way is writing.”
The PEN America Foundation awards more than $300,000 in awards and grants each year. As the winner of the PEN/Bingham Award, Scott will receive $25,000, a stipend intended to permit a significant degree of leisure in which to pursue a second work of literary fiction.
Four other books were finalists for the PEN/Bingham Award — “We Show What We Have Learned” by Clare Beams, “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett, “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi and “Hurt People” by Cote Smith. The judges for this year’s award were Jami Attenberg, Tawni Nandini Islam, Randall Kenan, Hanna Pyalvainen and Akhil Sharma.
The University Press of Kentucky New Poetry and Prose series is sponsored by Centre College, and is open to new submissions until May 1. The second title in the series, “The Price of Scarlet: Poems” by Brianna Noll, was published earlier this year.
Rion Amilcar Scott teaches English at Bowie State University. He earned an MFA at George Mason University, where he won both the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award and a Completion Fellowship. His work has appeared in publications such as the Kenyon Review, Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Rumpus, Fiction International, the Washington City Paper, The Toast and Confrontation.
UPK is the scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, representing a consortium that includes all of the state universities, five private colleges, and two historical societies. The press’ editorial program focuses on the humanities and the social sciences. Offices for the administrative, editorial, production and marketing departments of the press are found at University of Kentucky, which provides financial support toward the operating expenses of the publishing operation through the UK Libraries.