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First Latino to win prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is a homeboy from the U.S.-Mexico border

First Latino to win prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is a homeboy from the U.S.-Mexico border

LatinaLista — In a prestigious literary competition where more than 350 novels and short-story collections by American authors published in the U.S. in 2012 were evaluated by a three-judge panel, a 58-year-old former priest walked away with the $15,000 prize — he’s also the first Latino to win the honored award in the 32-year history of the contest.

Ben Saenz was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Foundation Award for Fiction for a collection of short stories titled "Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club" which is set along the border between Texas and Mexico. (Mark Lambie / El Paso Times)

Ben Saenz was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Foundation Award for Fiction for a collection of short stories titled “Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club” which is set along the border between Texas and Mexico. (Mark Lambie / El Paso Times)

New Mexico-born Benjamin Alire Sáenz was announced as this year’s recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his collection of stories in “Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club,” published by El Paso-based independent book publisher Cinco Puntos Press.

According to a press release:

The titular Kentucky Club, a Juárez institution that sits four blocks from the U.S. border, provides a guiding thread for the collection, acting alternately as backdrop, touchstone, and oasis for a humane set of characters who struggle with the impossible ambiguities of borders whether they be sexual, emotional, national or economic.

In interviews with the press, Sáenz credits the border for inspiring him.

“The borderland — the frontera — gave me words, gave me language, a point of view,” he said.

It was his master’s in creative writing that he earned in the years after leaving the priesthood that polished his skills as a fiction writer, essayist, poet and children’s book author. Currently chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso, Sáenz’s work has continually attracted the attention of the literary world and has won various recognitions including an American Book award, the Tomas Rivera Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN Center’s award for young adult fiction.

On May 4, 2013, Sáenz will accept his newest award before a crowd at the 33nd annual PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

At that time, he will not only share the U.S.-Mexico border experience that has shaped his life and his writings but will bring those experiences officially into the mainstream literary world.

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