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Susan Straight Wins National Award

Novelist Susan Straight Wins National Honor

The UCR creative writing professor wins the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, which includes a $150,000 prize.

(November 8, 2007)

Susan StraightEnlarge

Susan Straight

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Novelist Susan Straight, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, has won the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for Fiction.

The Lannan Foundation announced the award today. The foundation, based in Santa Fe, N.M., established its literary awards and fellowships in 1989 to recognize writers who have contributed significantly to English-language literature. The award carries a $150,000 prize.

Straight is an award-winning author who has published six novels, three children's books and many works of short fiction, essays and articles. Her fifth novel, "Highwire Moon" (2001), was optioned for film by Little Monument Pictures and is in development. Her commentaries are frequently heard on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

The Lannan Foundation said her latest novel, "A Million Nightingales," "continues her singularly beautiful exploration of race in America."

The longtime UCR professor said she was honored to receive the award.

"It is a recognition of my body of work over the last 17 years by a wonderful foundation known for its intellectual and cultural strengths," she said. "This will allow me to take time off from teaching to finish my new novel, the second in a trilogy about slavery and its legacy, motherhood and love."

The Lannan award honors Straight's talent and further raises the profile of UCR's Department of Creative Writing, said Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

"Susan Straight is a jewel," Cullenberg said. "This award recognizes her accomplishment as a major national author. It also helps bring recognition to the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside and is one more testimony to its growing stature as one of the very few leading writing programs in the country."

Charles Whitney, chair of the Department of Creative Writing, said the honor is well-deserved.

"She's an enormously gifted writer, and this is by no means her first major award. It certainly adds to the luster of the Creative Writing program here," Whitney said. "We have been on a roll lately. Our poet Christopher Buckley won a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, and in the past two and a half years, our faculty has published 25 books. We are especially happy for Susan. She's not only a great, great writer, but a gifted teacher and a very generous colleague."

Straight joined the UCR faculty in 1988 and has served as chair of the Department of Creative Writing. She co-founded the university's master of fine arts in creative writing and writing for the performing arts program.

Among her awards are: a Guggenheim Fellowship for distinguished individual achievement and exceptional promise; the California Book Prize; a Pushcart Prize; the Gold Medal for Fiction from the San Francisco-based Commonwealth Club; finalist for a National Book Award; finalist for the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and the 2007 O. Henry Prize for her short story "El Ojo De Agua." She also won the UCR Distinguished Humanist Achievement Lecturer award in 1998 for her writings about Riverside's Eastside neighborhood.

Straight's novels include "I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots" (1993), "Aquaboogie" (1994), "Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights" (1995), "The Gettin' Place" (1996), "Highwire Moon" (2001) and "A Million Nightingales" (2006).

"A Million Nightingales," her most recent novel, is the story of Moinette, a slave in the early 1800s in Louisiana who has to buy her own son to keep him. A 2006 New York Times review called the book "a powerful and moving story, written in language so beautiful you can almost believe the words themselves are capable of salving history's wounds."

Most of Straight's novels are set in the fictional town of Rio Seco, California, which loosely resembles Riverside, her home town.

Straight, a graduate of Riverside's North High School, earned her B.A. at the University of Southern California and her M.F.A. at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she studied with acclaimed author James Baldwin. She lives in Riverside with her three daughters.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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