Seventeenth Annual Award
In the Distance (Coffee House Press)
By Hernán Díaz
In the Distance tells the story of a Swedish immigrant named Håkan in his crossing of America's western frontier in the years between the Gold Rush and the Civil War. It is a twist on a quintessentially American genre: the western. Westerns, as Díaz told The New York Times, glamorize "the worst aspects of the imperial drive of the United States": brutality against nature, genocidal racism, machismo, traditional gender roles, and "frivolous violence." Håkan's journey begins as a traditional western tale: a quest to locate his brother, Linus, after becoming separated in Portsmouth, England, where the brothers were to board a ship bound for New York City. Håkan instead finds himself on the wrong ship, heading for the wrong side of America: San Francisco. From the start, In the Distance rejects and reverses the established conventions of the genre, as Håkan travels, penniless and alone, eastward across the United States in search of his brother.
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, In the Distance has received great critical acclaim. The New York Times describes its "affecting oddness" as its greatest virtue, alongside "its ability to create lustrous mindscapes from wide-open spaces, from voids that are never empty." Novelist Lauren Groff calls it "exquisite: assured, moving, and masterful, as profound and precise an evocation of loneliness as any book I've ever read." Through Håkan, the Paris Review Daily says, Díaz writes "what it is to encounter the foreign or forgotten, such that the reader has a similarly enlightening experience, encountering it anew." And the Pulitzer Prize Committee called the book "gorgeously written" as it "charts one man's growth from boyhood to mythic status" on Håkan's journey "between continents and the extremes of the human condition."
Hernán Díaz, who was raised in Argentina and Sweden, is the author of the nonfiction Borges, Between History and Eternity. He is the associate director of the Hispanic Institute for Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University serves as the managing editor of the Spanish-language journal Revista Hispánica Moderna.
Judges: Jade Chang, winner of the 2017 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for The Wangs vs. the World; Idra Novey, author of Ways to Disappear and Those Who Knew; and Akil Kumarasamy, author of Half Gods
Finalists: SJ Sindu for Marriage of a Thousand Lies (Soho Press) and Anelise Chen for So Many Olympic Exertions (Kaya Press)