Recent Graduate Awarded $50,000 Literary Prize

Frances Ya–Chu Cowhig, a graduate of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the 2009 Keene Prize for Literature for her play titled Lidless, a poetic treatment of the issue of torture at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Keene Prize is one of the world’s largest student literary prizes. Cowhig will receive $50,000 and an additional $50,000 will be divided among three finalists.

Cowhig’s play was chosen out of 58 submissions in drama, poetry and fiction. In the play, a former Guantanamo detainee dying of liver disease journeys to the home of his female interrogator to demand reparation for the damage she wreaked on his body and soul. It recreates the traumatic experience of interrogation and moves toward reconciliation between its protagonists.

“Political without being propagandistic, moving without being sentimental, ‘Lidless’ uses theatrical space, physical bodies and talismanic objects to create a bold imaginative intervention into the debate about torture,” said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and chair of the award selection committee.

In addition to the Keene Prize “Lidless” has been selected by playwright Sir David Hare as the winner of the 2009 Yale Emerging Playwrights Prize. The play was produced at the university’s Department of Theatre and Dance Lab Theatre as part of the annual production, UT New Theatre (UTNT), last spring and will be given staged readings at Houston’s Alley Theatre, Ojai Playwrights Conference and Yale Repertory Theatre. It will be published by Yale University Press.

“We are all thrilled that Frances has won the coveted Keene Prize as a capstone to her other astonishing achievements this year! She is already changing the landscape of the American Theatre!” said Suzan Zeder, Professor of Playwriting from the Department of Theatre and Dance.

The three finalists include Malachi Black for the collection of sonnets “Cantos from Insomnia” and Sarah Cornwell for her short stories “Mr. Legs,” “Champlain” and “Other Wolves on Other Mountains.” Both are master’s of fine arts candidates at the Michener Center. The other finalist, Sarah Smith, a Michener Center graduate, was selected for her collection of poetry, “Enormous Sleeping Women.”

Established in 2006 in the College of Liberal Arts, the Keene Prize is named after E.L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the university, who envisioned an award that would enhance and enrich the university’s prestige and reputation in the international market of American writers. The competition is open to all university undergraduate and graduate students, and the prize is awarded annually to the student who creates the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm. Students submit poetry, plays and fiction or non–fiction prose.

Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2009