Verzemnieks wins Jaffe Writers' Award
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Inara Verzemnieks, a graduate student in the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program (NWP), is one of six 2012 winners of the prestigious Rona Jaffe Writers’ Awards. She will receive the $30,000 award at a Sept. 20 event in New York.
The award, created by celebrated novelist Rona Jaffe to identify and support women writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers, is presented by the Rona Jaffe Foundation.
Past recipients of the awards—including NWP alumnae Eula Biss and Amy Leach, Iowa Writers' Workshop alumna and now director Lan Samantha Chang, and Writers’ Workshop alumna ZZ Packer—have since received wider critical recognition, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” Award, and the Whiting Writer’s Award.
Prior to her arrival at the UI, Verzemnieks worked as a reporter for 13 years at The Oregonian, where she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the James Beard Award in feature writing.
Her creative writing has appeared in The Atlantic and Creative Nonfiction, and she has recently completed a piece entitled “The Last Days of the Baldock” about a group of homeless people who lived at a rest stop off the interstate near Portland, Ore.
Verzemnieks grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and was raised in part by her grandparents, who were Latvian refugees. She is working on a book, part lyrical memoir/part history, about the experiences of Latvian exiles in the aftermath of WWII.
She writes, “Tentatively titled Eternal Exile, it is a work of creative nonfiction that uses the history of my family to reveal the larger history of a country and a people shaped by centuries of war, occupation, and dislocation.”
After she completes her UI degree, she will use her Jaffe Writers’ Award to devote herself to this project and spend more time in Latvia researching state archival material and visiting (and interviewing) her grandmother’s 84-year-old sister, the last living link to this story.
The Nonfiction Writing Program is a graduate program in the UI English Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.