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L.A. story collection wins Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award

Angelinohts_mar2011

Writer Brando Skyhorse's "The Madonnas of Echo Park" has won the Hemingway/PEN Award for first fiction, it was announced Tuesday. The book is a short-story collection with intersecting tales of Echo Park, a neighborhood northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Skyhorse, an L.A. native who has transplanted to New York, drew heavily on his memories of Echo Park for the book, featuring immigrant workers, struggling mothers, generations wrestling with too few resources and a tragic drive-by shooting, bumping into the present day, when former sleazy bar Little Joy has become a hipster hangout. "Skyhorse is at his best when exploring the changing world of Echo Park," Alex Espinoza wrote in our review. "The author claims this place as his authorial turf, mapping its streets and excavating its history." But, he continues:

Those whose knowledge of the racial strife and generational tensions within Southern California's Latino community comes from watching films like "Mi Vida Loca," "Crash" or "Quinceañera" will find Skyhorse's novel reifies what they think they already know about this "unseen" segment of the population.

The power of the works of Dagoberto Gilb, Yxta Maya Murray and Helena María Viramontes rests in these authors' ability to humanize the people they write about, in their indictment of those in the media and publishing who consistently under- or misrepresent Southland Mexican Americans. Lending his voice to L.A.'s rich Latino canon won't be hard for Brando Skyhorse as long as he learns to handle his characters with the same amount of dignity with which he handles the geography they inhabit.

Skyhorse will receive an award of $8,000 and a weeklong residency at the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series at the University of Idaho’s master's program in creative writing. Both Skyhorse and the two finalists -- Patricia Engel ("Vida") and Suzanne Rivecca ("Death Is Not an Option") -- will receive writing residency fellowships at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming.

The Hemingway/PEN Award for first fiction will be presented at a free event at the JFK Library in Boston, with author Marilynne Robinson as keynote speaker, on March 27. The award was founded by Ernest Hemingway's wife Mary in 1976 and was later brought to the JFK Library by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Previous winners include Chang-rae Lee, Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri,  Justin Cronin, Yiyun Li, Joshua Ferris and Dagoberto Gilb.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Echo Park on March 8, 2011. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

 
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