Monday evening, Ucross celebrated its longstanding partnership with the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel during a dinner attended by more than 100 participants of the International Hemingway Society Conference at Sheridan College. Kevin Powers of Fernandina Beach, Florida, a PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author and an alumnus of the Ucross artist residency program, gave the keynote address.
The event commenced with an instrumental fiddle performance by local musicians Dave Munsick and Tris Munsick. As they enjoyed the music, attendees viewed Hemingway in Wyoming, a digital exhibition curated by Steve Paul, an honorary Ucross Fellow, a longtime member of the Hemingway Society, and a supporter of the PEN/Hemingway Award.
Presented annually, the PEN/Hemingway Award honors a debut novel of exceptional merit by an emerging American author. The winner receives a $10,000 cash prize, and the winner and finalists have the opportunity to visit Ucross for an artist residency, which includes uninterrupted time, studio space, living accommodations, meals by a professional chef, and the experience of the majestic High Plains on its 20,000-acre ranch in northern Wyoming.
“When a writer travels to Ucross from elsewhere, especially if they are new to the West, they are bombarded with new observations, new sensory details, new experiences of the material world that fill that great reserve — consciously or unconsciously — and this, in turn, fuels creativity,” said Ucross President William Belcher as he addressed the Hemingway Society. “It’s part of the magic of Ucross. So, we have a type of kinship with Hemingway in this way, as we know that the observed world here can evoke that ‘real thing’ that Hemingway was after.”
The partnership between Ucross and PEN/Hemingway was proposed in 1995 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx, then a Ucross trustee, with the goal of increasing support to emerging writers at a crucial period of their literary careers. Proulx had written two books at Ucross, The Shipping News and Postcards, and understood the value of uninterrupted time to concentrate on new work.
In the 26 years since, Ucross has provided artist residencies for nearly 75 PEN/Hemingway Award winners and finalists, including Colson Whitehead, Sigrid Nunez, Ottessa Moshfegh, Joshua Ferris, Yaa Gyasi, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Kawai Strong Washburn.
“It has never been easy to be an emerging fiction writer, and contemporary pressures have made it even harder,” noted former Ucross President Sharon Dynak, who led the formation of the partnership. “We think Ernest Hemingway would have appreciated the gift of uninterrupted time at Ucross — and he definitely would have appreciated the lunches and dinners our extraordinary chef prepares for Ucross residents. We also think he would have liked our landscape and wildlife and somewhat primal solitude — excellent conditions for the making of original work.”
After Dynak and Belcher’s remarks, Powers took the stage. In his keynote, he emphasized the impact Hemingway had on him throughout his career, as well as the significance of scholars, writers, and administrators gathering to honor the literary arts. Powers then read a powerful excerpt from his latest work, noting that he had revised the chapter at the Ucross dining room table the day before.
Powers is the author of The Yellow Birds, which, in addition to winning the PEN/Hemingway Award, won the Guardian First Book Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, was a Michener Fellow in Poetry at the University of Texas at Austin, and served in the U.S. Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005. Powers’s novel A Shout in the Ruins was published in 2018, and his third novel will be published in 2023.