Danzy Senna, a novelist and short story author who burst onto the American literary scene in 1998 with her critically acclaimed first novel Caucasia, will be awarded the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature this spring at Longwood University.

“Danzy is a writer whose work stands out for its constant focus on identity, both as an American and as a person of biracial heritage,” said Dr. David Magill, associate professor of English at Longwood and chair of the Dos Passos Prize Committee. “She challenges readers on the values of their personal identity, and explores the idea of Americanism in a similar vein as John Dos Passos.”

Senna is the 35th recipient of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, which is awarded annually by the Longwood Department of English and Modern Languages.

Caucasia is a coming-of-age story about a biracial girl in the mid-1970s who struggles with racial identity in a tumultuous world. It won the Alex Award from the American Library Association and was named a L.A. Times Best Book of the Year.

Since her second novel, Symptomatic, a psychological thriller published in 2004, Senna has written an autobiographical work on her own biracial parentage—her mother is the celebrated poet Fanny Howe and her father is an African-American scholar. She further explores the topic in her 2011 short-story collection, You Are Free.

She is a talent on the rise,” said Magill. “Her works have all been widely praised, and there is already a groundswell of buzz about her upcoming novel. She is an exemplary author, and most deserving of the 2016 Dos Passos Prize.

Dr. David Magill, associate professor of English at Longwood and chair of the Dos Passos Prize Committee

“She is a talent on the rise,” said Magill. “Her works have all been widely praised, and there is already a groundswell of buzz about her upcoming novel. She is an exemplary author, and most deserving of the 2016 Dos Passos Prize.”

The John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, founded in 1980, is named for a talented but often overlooked 20th century American writer, most known for his U.S.A. trilogy. The prize recognizes contemporary American authors who have produced a substantial body of published work that displays characteristics of Dos Passos’ writing: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental approach to form, and an interest in a wide range of human experience.

Past Dos Passos Prize winners include Colson Whitehead, who won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, and icons of American literature like Sherman Alexie, Annie Proulx, Earnest J. Gaines, Shelby Foote, and Tom Wolfe. The 2015 winner, Paul Beatty, won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his novel “The Sellout.”

Senna will receive the Dos Passos Prize at a ceremony on Longwood’s campus March 30, 2017. She will meet with several English classes before the award presentation.

 

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