Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Elizabeth M. Stanley Professor in the Arts at Iowa, has won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her novel, The Family Chao.
“I was working in my office when I received a surprise phone call from Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chair of the jury,” Chang says. “It was a real thrill. I am very honored to receive this significant accolade because some of the writers I love most—Edward P. Jones, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Toni Morrison—have also received it.”
Established in 1935 by Edith Anisfield Wolf, the book prizes, which are presented by the Cleveland Foundation, recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and the appreciation of diversity of human cultures. It is the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and explores diversity. Chang is one of five recipients of the award for 2023.
Chang wrote The Family Chao, which was featured on President Barack Obama’s 2022 summer reading list, as a retelling of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov through the lens of a dysfunctional Chinese-American family. They own a restaurant in small-town Wisconsin until the patriarch is murdered and others rush to impose a sinister twist on their American dream.
Anisfield-Wolf juror Joyce Carol Oates extolled the novel as “an outstanding work of fiction” that she found to be exceptionally accomplished and ambitious.
Chang has directed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for 17 years. She is a graduate of the workshop and was a Wallace E. Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. The American Academy in Berlin, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation have all granted her fellowships.
Chang’s earlier books are the novels Inheritance and All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost, and a collection of short fiction, Hunger.