Vanessa Veselka, Zazen
The judges wrote in their citation:
“When practicing zazen, the disposition of our mind should be to see without being marred by what we see. This definition stands in stark contrast to the experience of reading Vanessa Veselka’s keen dystopian novel Zazen: we can’t help but be injured and destabilized. We can’t help but find the contents at once disturbing and funny, explosive and muted, encyclopedic, intimate, and painfully honest. On top of all this, Veselka has thrown herself into every single sentence of this lyrical, incisive, nervy book, turning even the most nightmarish scenes and satirical dialogue into effortless beauty. An ambitious encapsulation of our modern times, Zazen tackles counter-culture hipsters, geology, Buddhism, consumerism, terrorism, veganism, family drama, and, above all, love. In doing so, Zazen brings to the foreground the most fragile aspects of living the 21st century life, and how, in the end, we as a society can become the very thing we fear.”
The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work—a novel or collection of short stories—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise. The winner receives a cash award of $25,000, a stipend intended to permit a significant degree of leisure in which to pursue a second work of literary fiction. The winner is also encouraged to become an active participant in the PEN community and its programs.
2012 Judges: Lauren Groff, Dinaw Mengestu, and Nami Mun.
Past winners: Carolyn Cooke, Matthew Klam, Manil Suri, Jonathan Safran Foer, Monique Truong, Will Heinrich, Christopher Coake, Janna Levin, Dalia Sofer, Donald Ray Pollock, Paul Harding, Danielle Evans, and Susanna Daniel.