Literary Luminaries

Literary Lights

“There is something quite powerful about having a creative writing program in a city, and a borough, with such a vibrant literary scene and such a storied literary history,” says Helen Phillips, “but on a campus like Brooklyn College—which has a feeling of serenity and intimacy, and is somewhat removed from the sometimes frenetic energy of the city—that provides a pool of quiet for creative risks.”

This fall, Helen Phillips and De’Shawn Charles Winslow added award nominees to the list of experiences they share. Phillips’ book The Need (Simon and Schuster, 2019) was longlisted for the National Book Award and Winslow’s In West Mills (Bloomsbury, 2019) is on the shortlist for The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, the winner to be announced in December. Brooklyn College and its writing programs have been the wellspring for a number of award-winning novelists, playwrights, poets, and authors who have joined a “storied literary history” of which Phillips speaks. Below are a few of the alumni and faculty who have earned some distinguished accolades.

Below are alumni and faculty who have earned more recent accolades.

Annie Baker ’09

Annie Baker ’09 M.F.A. was awarded a 2014 Pulitzer Prize, as well as an Obie for Excellence in Playwriting, among other honors, for her play The Flick. The drama draws on the disorientation Baker experienced while watching a digital projection of an Ingmar Bergman movie.

Paul Beatty ’89

Paul Beatty ’89 M.F.A. won the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Sellout (Oneworld, 2015), a biting satire about race in America. Beatty was the first American to capture the top British literary prize, known as the award that honors “the finest in fiction,” and which comes with a cash prize of 50,000 British pounds and a designer bound edition of the book.

Rosamond S. King

Rosamond S. King, associate professor in the English Department and director of the college’s Ethyle R. Wolfe Institute for the Humanities, won a Lambda Literary Award, the signature honor of the nation’s leading organization advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer literature, for her poetry book Rock|Salt|Stone (Nightboat, 2017).

R. O. Kwon ’08

R. O. Kwon ’08 is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her debut novel The Incendiaries (Penguin 2018) about a college student at a top university who is drawn into a cult with ties to North Korea was named best book of the year and given high marks by numerous media outlets and publications, including NPR, The Atlantic, The New York Times Book Review, and The Washington Post.

Young Jean Lee

Young Jean Lee, an Obie Award winner, Lee’s Straight White Men was mounted on Broadway in 2018. She is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship among others. She is the first Asian-American woman to have a play performed on America’s main stage.

Ben Lerner

Ben Lerner, distinguished professor of English, is the author of three books of poetry (The Lichtenberg Figures, 2004; Angle of Yaw, 2006; and Mean Free Path, 2010—all Copper Canyon Press) and three novels (Leaving the Atocha Station, Coffee House Press, 2011; 10:04, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011; and The Topeka School, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), among other publications. Lerner is a recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant” as well as Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships.

Kristen Meinzer ’08

Kristen Meinzer ’08 M.F.A. is culture producer for NPR’s The Takeaway and co-host of The Takeaway’s Movie Date podcast. The Takeaway, which reaches an audience of over 2 million listeners nationwide, is a recipient of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s Edward R. Murrow Award. Meinzer is a regular commentator on Soundcheck, BK Live, the New York broadcast of All Things Considered, the Brian Lehrer Show, and the New York broadcast of Morning Edition.

Sara Shepard ’05

Sara Shepard ’05 M.F.A. is the author known for the bestselling Pretty Little Liars (HarperTeen) and The Lying Game (HarperTeen) book series; both were developed into television series on ABC Family.

Ocean Vuong ’12

Ocean Vuong ’12, a MacArthur “genius grant” winner, is the author of the poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and a debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin, 2019), for which he has been nominated for the 2019 National Book Award and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Award.

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