Last week, the National Book Award released its finalists for 2017, and a book published by the Wesleyan University Press has made the cut. “In the Language of My Captor” by Shane McCrae has been named a finalist in the Poetry category. “The Leavers” by Lisa Ko ’98 was also named a finalist in the group of nominees for fiction.

In recent years, the Wesleyan University Press has published a number of works that have gone on to earn a National Book Award nomination. According to Stephanie Elliot Prieto, the Press’s Publicist and Web Manager, four works have been nominated (including this most recent book), with one win in 2004.

“It’s exciting to have a book recognized in this way, and we’re always especially happy for the authors,” Prieto wrote in an email to The Argus. “It’s a real accomplishment, and such recognition can lead to more career opportunities for an author. Jean Valentine’s ‘Door in the Mountain,’ published by WesPress, won the prize in 2004. Over the last decade, we’ve published books that were finalists for the NBA on three occasions, including the current finalist.”

The other nominees, though they did not win the National Book Award, did earn other prestigious accolades including a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for Rae Armanatrout’s “Versed.” Brenda Hillman’s “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire” was not a finalist, but was long-listed in 2014 and won the Griffin Poetry Trust’s International Poetry Prize. “Archephonics” by Peter Gizzi was also a finalist in 2016.

“In the Language of My Captor,” reflects McCrae’s paradoxical upbringing, in which he, a mixed-race child, was raised by white supremacist grandparents. He highlights the inconsistencies of his own childhood by placing them in a larger historical context. He relates his own experience to that of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his adopted, black son. Given the current state of discourse in the U.S., the work reads as a comment on contemporary political and social tensions.

“His relationship with his grandparents is like Davis’s relationship with his step-son in that both complicate the division between love and hate,” Prieto wrote. “We see this sort of relationship played out on the national level. What’s going on with the NFL is one example. Americans are great consumers of professional sports, yet a certain segment of these fans will not accept the inherent right of black players to #TakeAKnee for their civil rights. Many whites claim they are not racist, but these same people are often not around to stand up against systematic racism. Or, even worse, they argue that racism is a problem from the past.”

With such relevant and impactful works, the University Press has had a lot to celebrate recently.

“Seeing that there are thousands of poetry books published each year, it’s really an honor for our authors to be recognized with such frequency,” Prieto said.


Molly Schiff can be reached at 

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