Ocean Vuong ’12, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019); De’Shawn Charles Winslow ’11, ’13 M.A., adjunct lecturer and author of In West Mills (2019)
Presented by the Before Columbus Foundation, a nonprofit educational and service organization founded in 1976, these awards help promote contemporary American multicultural literature, providing recognition and a wider audience for the wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity that constitutes American writing.
Vuong and Winslow have served as great ambassadors for the power of diversity that Brooklyn College aims to support, so these awards hold a special significance.
A 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient, Vuong received this latest award for the novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. The New York Times best seller is a powerful coming-of-age story about a young Vietnamese American whose family was torn by their experiences during the Vietnam War. It had already made The New Yorker’s Best Books of 2019 list and was included in both The Washington Post and Time lists. It was also nominated for the 2019 National Book Award and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Award.
Vuong and his work have been featured in The Atlantic, Granta, Harper’s, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 Leading Global Thinkers for 2016, Vuong was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian-American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s All Things Considered, PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, Interview, and Poets & Writers. He lives in Massachusetts, where he serves as an assistant professor in the M.F.A. program for poets and writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Vuong, who earned his M.F.A. in poetry from New York University, also penned the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016 and winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.
De’Shawn Charles Winslow is an alumnus who is passing his passion for writing down to Brooklyn College students as an adjunct lecturer in the English Department.
Before the American Book Award, In West Mills won the Center for Fiction 2019 First Novel Prize. Spanning decades in a rural North Carolina town where a canal acts as the color line, the novel is a heartfelt, small-town journey about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love. The New York Times Book Review said, “From the first page, Winslow establishes an uncanny authority and profound tone that belie the book’s debut status. The precision and charm of his language lure us in and soothe us … He paints a community so tightknit and thorough it becomes easy to forget the people in it don’t exist.”
Born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Winslow is a 2017 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a B.F.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in English literature from Brooklyn College. Says Winslow, “I am honored, and quite surprised, to learn that I am a recipient of this year’s American Book Award. In West Mills is my baby, and I’m glad it’s in the world at all. And I very much appreciate Brooklyn College’s continued support!”
This pair of authors is recognized alongside fellow 2020 American Book Award winners George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker, co-authors of They Called Us Enemy, a story that reveals the important lessons of Japanese-American internment during World War II.
The American Book Awards offers no cash prize and does not require any financial commitments from the authors or their publishers. The winners are nominated and selected by a panel of writers, editors, and publishers who also represent the diversity of American literary culture.