Wednesday, May 12, 2021

As program director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Lan Samantha Chang is used to calling people with good news. But this time, the Elizabeth M. Stanley Professor in the Arts was the one who received the call.

Chang was named a 2021-22 Berlin Prize fellow, an honor awarded to scholars, writers, and artists who represent the highest standards of excellence in their field. The prize, presented by the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, provides a semester-long fellowship for recipients to pursue their creative work.

lan samantha chang
Lan Samantha Chang

“It’s a huge honor and an encouraging affirmation of my creative work to be chosen as a Berlin Prize fellow,” Chang says. “Each spring, I have the experience of calling successful fiction applicants to the Writers’ Workshop to inform them of their good news. But that experience didn’t prepare me for the surprise and thrill I felt to be on the receiving end of a good-news phone call from Berlin.”

Chang is the author of a collection of short fiction, Hunger, and two novels, Inheritance and All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost. Her newest novel, The Family Chao, is set to be released in 2022. Chang’s work has been translated into nine languages and has twice been included in The Best American Short Stories.

The Berlin Prize provides fellows an opportunity to travel to the Academy’s Hans Arnhold Center in Berlin for a semester to pursue new projects. After finishing her newest manuscript this year, Chang says she looks forward to spending the time in Berlin.

“My family and I will be in Berlin for the fall semester, and my daughter will spend her first trimester of high school there,” Chang says. “I plan to begin a new novel in Berlin. I feel tremendously fortunate to have this chance to immerse myself in a new project while I’m at the academy.”

The fellowship is not only another endorsement of Chang’s work but adds to a storied list of Berlin Prize fellows from the Workshop, including Angela Flournoy, V.V. Ganeshanathan, Adam Haslett, Anthony Marra, and Ayana Mathis, along with visiting writers Mary Jo Bang, Tom Drury, and Karen Russell.

“A number of Workshop affiliates have been Berlin Prize fellows,” Chang says. “I think it’s an enormous credit to the Writers’ Workshop that so many of its community have been honored by the American Academy in Berlin.”

Chang has received creative writing fellowships from Stanford University, Princeton University, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. But she says this fellowship feels different.

“I feel that the horizons for my work and life have broadened,” Chang says. “There’s also a tremendous sense of adventure to be setting out on a semester overseas.”

Iowa is known as the Writing University largely because of world-renowned graduate programs including the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But the university’s commitment to helping all students build strong writing and communication skills is evident in every corner of campus and every field of study.

In 2020, the University of Iowa was listed as the top public school in the nation for writing, according to the annual rankings from U.S. News & World Report.