By Kalli Damschen
Arna Bontemps Hemenway, assistant professor of English in creative writing, has won this year’s PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction for his short story collection “Elegy on Kinderklavier.”
Hemenway’s “Elegy on Kinderklavier” was published in 2014 by Sarabande Books and includes both short stories and a novella. The PEN/Hemingway award is not the first to honor his work. The book was also a finalist for the Discovery Prize and was named a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers selection for summer 2014.
“As a writer you always hope that your stuff is going to get out there somehow and be read and matter to people,” Hemenway said. “It meant a lot that the judges and that the organization had read my work and thought it was worthy of being honored so hugely.”
Hemenway describes the short stories in “Elegy on Kinderklavier” as “pretty formally experimental.” Many of the short stories are about soldiers in Iraq, but the novella is about a young couple whose child has a terminal brain tumor.
Hemenway’s other fiction writing has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review, The Seattle Review, Storyville, Meridian Literary Review, Bat City Review and Epilogue Magazine, among others, and has been named a Notable/Distinguished Story of the Year in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Nonrequired Reading anthologies.
“When we were interviewing him for this position in creative writing, all the candidates submitted samples of their writing,” said Dr. Dianna Vitanza, English department chair and associate professor. “His was so much above everyone else’s, both in content and style. Every aspect was superior. He’s a really impressive writer.”
Hemenway works with Baylor students to help them improve their creative writing. He said he loves teaching because of the opportunity to experience the wonder of reading anew through his students and to watch their writing improve.
“It keeps things really fresh and new, and it energizes me in my writing,” Hemenway said. “I love seeing students’ work improve, seeing students come up with entirely new avenues of imagination.”
Hemenway received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa and his Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He taught creative writing at the University of Iowa before coming to work as an assistant professor at Baylor.
“I’m really delighted to have him here working at Baylor and sharing his talents with us,” saidDr. James Bennighof, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Policy.
Bennighof said Hemenway’s awards are “a reflection, on the national level, of the quality of faculty that we’ve got teaching here.”
Vitanza said Hemenway’s award-winning work will reflect well on both the English department and Baylor as a whole.
“Any time a faculty member wins something as prestigious as these awards, it’s good for us,” Vitanza said. “It not only helps the English department. It helps Baylor and raises our profile.”
The PEN/Hemingway Award was founded in 1976 by Mary Hemingway, American journalist and wife of writer Ernest Hemingway, to recognize distinguished debut works of fiction. The prize includes $20,000 and a one-week residency in The Distinguished Visiting Writers Series at the University of Idaho’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, as well as a Ucross Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers.
Hemenway will attend the awards ceremony in Boston on April 19, where his award will be presented by Ernest Hemingway’s son Patrick.