The award is given each year by the University of Rochester to a book of prose fiction by an American woman. The novel, published in 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York City, was chosen for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program, and was praised by the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.
Keesey’s coming-of-age story follows Esther, a young woman from Chicago who rides the rails west in search of her last living relative. At the urging of her older cousin, a cattleman, Esther lays claim to land outside the lawless frontier town of Century, Ore., where a bitter range war between cattle ranchers and sheepherders explodes in violence.
“It’s been a long-time, back-burner hope of mine to make a whole book, a novel, a fictional world, that has some humanity and artistic integrity to it,” she said. “And I think I’ve done that, and I’m really happy about it. The Janet Heidinger Kafka prize, coming more than a year after the book’s publication, is just a delightful, humbling surprise. To see my name on a list that includes Toni Morrison and Ursula Le Guin? That is sweet.”
Keesey is the Renshaw Distinguished Professor of Literature and Writing at Linfield and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories.
Keesey has spent recent months reading and writing about several subjects including water politics, the Guatemalan civil war and the United States’ activities in Central America. The topics may show up in her upcoming projects.
“I’m interested, still, in the nexus of landscape, politics and moral action,” she said. “And mermaids. I’m interested in mermaids.”
For more information, go to annakeesey.com.