Engel honored with 42nd Dos Passos Prize

Published 1:30 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Patricia Engel

Novelist and short story writer Patricia Engel has been selected as the 2023 winner of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, a literary award given annually by Longwood University to a talented American writer who experiments with form, explores a range of voices and merits further recognition. 

Engel is best-known for her collection Vida (2010), a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award; her novel The Veins of the Ocean (2016), winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice; and Infinite Country (2021), a New York Times bestseller. She was chosen by the Dos Passos Prize jury from a short list of four finalists, which included Achy Obejas, Brandon Hobson and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. 

Engel will receive an honorarium and medal, and will visit Longwood’s campus on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, to receive the award and read from her work at a ceremony open to the public. 

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“Much like the prize’s namesake, Patricia Engel illuminates those dimensions of the human experience that often go unnoticed and unsung,” said Dr. John Miller, associate professor of early American literature in the English department at Longwood and chair of the selection jury. “Simultaneously, she imagines America on a scale broader than its national boundaries.” 


Infinite Country, published in 2021, explores the complexities of migration and man-made borders. In the novel, Engel gives voice to three generations of a mixed-status Colombian family who endure the bitter hardships of living undocumented in the United States. The book won the New American Voices Award and a Florida Book Award, and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. 

Engel’s most recent book, a short story collection titled The Faraway World, was published in January 2023 and named 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. 

The 2023 Dos Passos Prize selection jury comprised last year’s winner, novelist Caro De Robertis; Dr. Hollie Adams, assistant professor of English at the University of Maine; and Miller. 

“Patricia Engel’s fiction plumbs the depths of human consciousness even as it renders visible the complex ramifications of societal realities in the U.S. and across the globe,” said De Robertis. “The aesthetic scope of her work is vast— from stories to novels, intimate portraits to sweeping epics — yet they are all powered by breathtaking prose, extraordinary vision and an almost preternatural compassion. Her voice is essential to the future of literature.” 

About Engel and the Award’s history 

Engel has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Award. Her books have been translated into many languages and selected as an NEA Big Read. Her short fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, A Public Space, The Sun, Harvard Review and Oprah Daily. Her essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Virginia Quarterly Review, Catapult and numerous anthologies. 

Engel, who was born in the U.S. to Colombian parents, is a graduate of New York University and earned her MFA at Florida International University. She is an associate professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami. 

The first John Dos Passos Award was given in 1980. Since that time, winners have included Shelby Foote (1988), Earnest J. Gains (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.