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Writers recognized: Mount Holyoke professor, UMass grad win Whiting Awards 

  • GENEVIEVESLY CRANE

  • The Whiting Award Committee says Crane’s novel, “Sorority,” offers “taut scenes” that are “sliced through with dark humor and dialogue that crackles with electricity.” 

  • ANDREA LAWLOR

  • Lawlor’s writing, the Whiting Award Committee says, is “mythic and gritty, lyric and witty, brazenly dirty and teeming with life.”

Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2020 9:39:34 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Valley writers and others with connections here have snapped up several prestigious awards in the last several years, from the Pulitzer Prize for drama ( Annie Baker) to MacArthur Fellowships (Kelly Link and Ocean Vuong).

Now you can add two more names to the list: Andrea Lawlor, who lives in Northampton and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, and Genevieve Sly Crane, a 2010 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have won 2020 Whiting Awards for fiction.

The $50,000 Whiting Award, introduced in 1985, is presented annually to 10 emerging U.S. writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.

Crane, who today teaches fiction writing at Stony Brook University in New York, was honored for her debut novel, “Sorority,” which has won praise as a probing character study of young women who first meet at a sorority at an unnamed Massachusetts college. Publishers Weekly calls it “ingenious … The multi-voice structure fits the story perfectly, resulting in a stellar examination of female relationships.”

And Lawlor, who also teaches creative writing at Mount Holyoke, has been recognized for “Paul Takes the Form of Mortal Girl,” a picaresque novel about a gay American bartender and university student, circa early 1990s, who can change gender and appearance at will (Paul’s female counterpart is called Polly). The Guardian newspaper calls the book “playful and sexy ... a hymn to the pleasures of gender fluidity.”

In a phone call from home, Lawlor, who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, said they had begun the novel in the early 2000s at age 30, then put it aside for several years. But after enrolling in a MFA program in creative writing at Temple University, Lawlor was encouraged to revisit the manuscript, and it became their thesis when they completed the MFA program for Poets & Writers at UMass.

“It is an honor to win (the Whiting Award) alongside all these other talented writers,” Lawlor said. “And it’s a really exciting time for people writing trans fiction, both here in the Valley and elsewhere…. I’m thrilled to be part of that.”

In a phone call from New York, Crane, who grew up partly in Oklahoma, said she joined the Chi Omega sorority at UMass as a student — “I was lonely and wanted to make friends as much as anything,” she said — and had a good experience there. Her novel paints a darker picture of sorority girls in fraught relationships with one another, but Crane says her book is entirely fictional.

“I wanted to be very careful not to draw parallels to where I’d been,” she said. “I even emailed drafts of the manuscript to several of my old sorority sisters to ask, ‘Do you see anything that looks like us?’ ”

Crane, who jokingly calls herself “an obnoxious feminist,” says she was more interested in creating young female characters with problems so as to push back against “the myth that young women are supposed to be happy and carefree ... Even in fiction, some people have problems with women expressing anger or anxiety or being sexual.”

Both Lawlor and Crane say they hope to use their award money for work on their new writing projects: for Lawlor, a novel about an “anarchic queer utopia in western Massachusetts,” and for Crane, a tale about “a woman who creates a new life and identity for herself every two years.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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