Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma citizen Jennifer Elise Foerster is on the shortlist for one of the world’s most prestigious prizes in literature.
She is a contender in the PEN Literary Awards’ $5,000 Open Book prize for her poetry anthology Leaving Tulsa (University of Arizona Press, 2013), given “for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2013,” according to the description from the PEN American Center. The awards will be announced later this summer and given out on September 29.
Besides her Muscogee (Creek) heritage, Foerster is of Dutch and German descent. She grew up in both worlds, according to a profile of her by the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she earned a BFA in creative writing in 2003.
“Jennifer grew up attending international schools in Europe—her father was a diplomat for the U.S. Air Force—and spending summers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her grandmother,” the site notes.
The dual upbringing is reflected by and enhances her work, reviewers noted.
“Leaving Tulsa scorches the boundaries of time, place, and self as the speaker both explores and challenges her Muscogee and European heritage within a contested America,” wrote the Missouri Review.
Foerster is in good company, sharing the shortlist for various awards with the likes of Janet Malcolm, W. S. Merwin, David Sedaris, Deborah Solomon and James Wolcott.
“The PEN Literary Awards bring together writers, editors, and members of the literary community to celebrate the ultimate fruit of free expression: great literature,” said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel in a statement. “These shortlists represent a remarkable array of diverse talents. We are honored to draw attention to these distinguished works, to congratulate the wonderful writers who created them, and to thank the dedicated judges who have read thousands of books and manuscripts in order to make very difficult selections.”
Last year Foerster spoke to Indian Country Today Media Network about her work, her cultural identity and the notion of homeland.
She also graciously allowed ICTMN to excerpt from Leaving Tulsa with the title poem.
For more on Foerster, visit her website.