De Robertis named John Dos Passos Prize winner

Published 3:21 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Carolina De Robertis, a Uruguayan American author of five novels, is the 2022 winner of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, a premier literary prize given annually by Longwood University to a talented American writer who experiments with form, explores a range of voices and deserves more recognition.

De Robertis is best-known for the novels The President and the Frog (2021), Cantoras (2019) and The Gods of Tango (2015). De Robertis was chosen by the Dos Passos Prize jury from a short list of four finalists, which included Gina Apostol, Jaime Manrique and John Wray. As the winner of the prize, De Robertis will receive an honorarium and will visit Longwood’s campus on Wednesday, April 5, to receive the prize and read from their work.

“In clear, precise prose, De Robertis makes audible the beating hearts of people navigating a terrifying world,” said Dos Passos Prize committee chair Brandon Haffner, assistant professor of creative writing at Longwood. “But De Robertis’ stories aren’t so much interested in exploiting that terror for narrative suspense as they are in interrogating what compassion and resilience look like in the face of confounding policies and state violence.”

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Monique Truong, the 2021 Dos Passos Prize winner and a member of the 2022 Dos Passos Prize jury, called The President and the Frog “masterful” and an unbeatable companion read to Cantoras.

“There’s a distillation of narrative and language there that I find particularly impressive,” Truong said. “The prose — so spare and yet emotionally engaging — brings us into a narrative world that verges on fable and myth and yet is damningly just about us humans and our capacity for grotesque cruelty on the one hand and our boundless will to survive on the other.”

De Robertis was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award for The President and the Frog. The character of the president in the book is heavily influenced by José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay. They won a Stonewall Book Award for both Cantoras and The Gods of Tango. They also won a Reading Women Award and were a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and a Lambda Literary Award for Cantoras, which is set in 1970s Uruguay. Cantoras was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice.

The John Dos Passos Prize for Literature is the oldest literary award given by a Virginia college or university. It honors a writer whose work offers incisive, original commentary on American themes, experiments with form and encompasses a range of human experiences.

De Robertis’ books have been translated into 17 languages and have received numerous other honors, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Last year they were an inaugural Baldwin-Emerson Fellow, gathering oral histories of queer and trans BIPOC elders in collaboration with Baldwin for the Arts and the Center for Oral History at Columbia University. De Robertis lives in Oakland, California, and is an associate professor at San Francisco State University.

The first John Dos Passos Award was given in 1980. Since that time, winners have included Shelby Foote (1988), Earnest J. Gaines (1993), Maxine Hong Kingston (1998), Colson Whitehead (2012), Ruth Ozeki (2014), Paul Beatty (2015), Karen Tei Yamashita (2018) and Rabih Alameddine (2019). Many of the past recipients have gone on to garner further acclaim. Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017 for The Underground Railroad and in 2020 for The Nickel Boys, and Beatty won the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction in 2016 for his novel The Sellout.