Two Wesleyan alumni, Kaitlyn Greenidge ’04 and Simone White ’93, have won the prestigious Whiting Writing award. The Whiting award is given to 10 emerging writers of the time and provides a $50,000 grant to the recipient of the award. The award has been won by authors including Jeffrey Eugenides, Colson Whitehead, Tracy Smith, and David Foster Wallace.
Greenidge won the award for her most recent novel, “We Love You, Charlie Freeman,” published by Algonquin Books. The story follows a family of color fluent in sign language that travels to Massachusetts to participate in a research experiment. They live with a chimpanzee named Charlie and they try to teach it sign language.
“If the lifeblood of writing is engaging with ideas, then Kaitlyn Greenidge’s work is coursing with thundering vitality,” the Whiting Committee said in a press release. “At times funny, at other times outrageous, she has an eye for the collision between the mundane and the tragic. What at first seems to be a coming-of-age novel is imbued with the suspense of a psychological thriller. ‘We Love You, Charlie Freeman’ is a hugely ambitious book about family, history, and the ways in which narratives are reshaped by time and self-interest. Greenidge is at work on a broader underlying story: our inability to find a common language for a discussion of race in America. The sense you get is that she’s nowhere near her full powers yet, and the prospect is thrilling.”
Greenidge is originally from Boston, and went on to receive her MFA from Hunter College after graduating from the University. She is the recipient of fellowships from Lower Manhattan Community Council’s Workspace Program and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, as well as other prizes. Her work has appeared in The Believer, American Short Fiction, Guernica, Kweli Journal, The Feminist Wire, and other publications. She now lives in Brooklyn.
White won the award for poetry, specifically for her work “Of Being Dispersed: Poems,” which was printed in 2016 by Futurepoem Books.
“In formally experimental, intellectually incisive, sonically enchanting lyric poems, Simone White captures what it is like to feel displaced within one’s own identity,” The Whiting Section Committee said. “She deconstructs our ideas of Americanness and the failure of language to be the transparent scrim we sometimes mistake it to be. Her work moves with acrobatic ease among multiple selves and registers, marked by colloquial immediacy and wit. Always, her poetry is alert, curious, exploratory, and responsive to the world we live in—a journey like few poets writing today, rendered in expertly handled syntax and indelible images.”
White’s recent work also received praise from Publisher’s Weekly.
“As she slips in and out of forms, dialects, and registers, White demonstrates that various cultural influences collide in a single individual, producing an ever-shifting foundation,” they wrote. “Sharp and vibrant, White can make her readers work, and her poems never fail to engage.”
Simone White has published several works besides her most recent collection: she is the author of “Unrest” (Ugly Duckling Presse/Dossier Series, 2013), “House Envy of All the World” (Factory School/Heretical Texts, 2010), and the collaborative poem/painting chapbook “Dolly” with Kim Thomas (Q Avenue Press, 2008). A new book of criticism and poems, “Dear Angel of Death,” will be published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2017.
White is a Cave Canem fellow and a 2013 New American Poet for the Poetry Society of America. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at The New School, Eugene Lang College, and the Program Director at The Poetry Project. She now lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Recipients of the Whiting award have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships.