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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
at night we walk in circles cover

University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop alumnus Daniel Alarcón is one of five finalists for the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, America's largest peer-juried prize for fiction.

Alarcón is nominated for At Night We Walk in Circles, published by Riverhead Books. Other nominees include Percival Everett for Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf Press); Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (G.P. Putnam’s Sons); Joan Silber for Fools (W.W. Norton & Company); and Valerie Trueblood for Search Party: Stories of Rescue (Counterpoint Press).

This year’s judges—Madison Smartt Bell, Manuel Muñoz, and Achy Obejas—considered more than 420 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the United States during the 2013 calendar year. Submissions came from 132 publishing houses, including small and academic presses.

The winner, who will receive $15,000, will be announced on April 2; the four finalists will receive $5,000 each. In a ceremony that celebrates the winner as “first among equals,” all five authors will be honored during the 34th annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony May 10 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

About the selection process, judge Madison Smartt Bell reports that, “The problem becomes not being able to reward all the books that deserve it... all of us were drawn most to work that was truly innovative and surprising in some way—and there was a generous amount of that to choose from.”

Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles is a mystery, a character study, and a political parable exploring the nature of art, love, language, and the distorting effects of war. This richly layered second novel begins in the seaside capital of an unnamed Latin American country where Nelson, a recent graduate of drama school, is invited to join a subversive guerrilla theater troupe. As Nelson and two compatriots—including Nelson’s hero, playwright Henry Nuñez—make their way through the countryside on a revival tour of Nuñez’s play The Idiot President, the lines between character and actor grow ever thinner. As the unreliable narrator of the novel pieces together Nelson’s story, he also paints a portrait of a troubled society in which the horrors of the past have left the hearts of the country’s people scarred like the hillsides that bear evidence of a long civil war.

A heady follow-up to his lyrical story collection and first novel, At Night We Walk in Circles has garnered comparisons to Borges, Bolaño, Beckett, and Kafka. Reviewing for the New York Times, Ana Menendez hailed the book, writing: “Alarcón fulfills the promise of his two earlier books [...] delivering a vibrant, ambitiously political story that derives its power from the personal.”

Alarcón’s previous books are the story collection War By Candlelight and the novel Lost City Radio. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting award, and recognized as one of The New Yorker’s 20 under 40, Alarcón currently lives in San Francisco.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a graduate program in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.