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Author Pylvainen Wins Whiting Award

Hanna Pylvainen, whose debut novel came out to wide critical acclaim in August, received a Whiting Writers’ Award Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City.

Each year, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation selects 10 emerging writers “of exceptional talent and promise” to honor. The award winners each receive $50,000, no strings attached. This year’s recipients include four playwrights, three fiction writers, two poets, and one nonfiction writer.

Hanna Pylvainen
Pylvainen, 27, grew up in suburban Detroit and now lives in Brooklyn and is devoted to fulltime writing, thanks in large part to the sale of her first novel, We Sinners, which is based on her own childhood experiences as a member of a fundamentalist religious group. While the cash stipend that comes with the award is “lovely,” the author said the acknowledgement of her work is more important to her.

“One of the things you always fear as a writer for a niche community is that there won’t be wide interest in the topic, in my case conservative religion,” Pylvainen said. “This award is a reminder that even though I grew up in very ordinary circumstances in an area where the thought of being a writer was preposterous, and I chose to write about a subject that may not appeal to everyone, it can work.”

Pylvainen, who described herself as “very excited” about the award, said she knew about it a month in advance but wasn’t allowed to share the news until Tuesday’s ceremony. She didn’t even know the names of the other winners prior to the ceremony. She said she feels lucky to be able to invest in her writing fulltime, and to be recognized for it. She was at Yaddo earlier this year working on a second draft of her second novel, The End of Drum Time, which is set in the same time period and place as We Sinners.

“It is a wonderful privilege to be a writer, to be able to attempt to write a novel, and to have places like Yaddo and the Whiting to offer support and encouragement. To be named among so many writers whom I admire and respect is absolutely humbling,” said Pylvainen.

Fellow Yaddo author Jeffrey Eugenides, who himself received a Whiting Award in 1993, delivered the keynote address at Tuesday evening’s ceremony. Other previous winners include Yaddo writers Jonathan Franzen, Jo Ann Beard, David Foster Wallace, and Michael Cunningham.

The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation generously supports a fund at Yaddo that offers financial aid to visiting artists.