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Author Rebecca Dinerstein Wins Greenberg Center's Wallant Award


Posted 01/29/2016
Submitted by David Isgur
Category: Campus Announcements
Rebecca Dinerstein

Rebecca Dinerstein

Dinerstein's debut novel, "The Sunlit Night."

Dinerstein's debut novel, "The Sunlit Night."

The University of Hartford’s Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies has named author Rebecca Dinerstein the 2015 Edward Lewis Wallant Award winner for her outstanding debut novel, The Sunlit Night (Bloomsbury, 2015).

The presentation ceremony will be held on Wednesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. in Wilde Auditorium. This year’s Wallant Award ceremony will also mark the re-publication of Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker (Fig Tree Press, 2015), and will include a special tribute to Mark Shechner, a Wallant Award judge since 2007 who passed away in October 2015.

As a Wallant Award winner, Dinerstein joins a distinguished list of past award recipients, including Cynthia Ozick, Curt Leviant, Chaim Potok, Myla Goldberg, Dara Horn, Nicole Krauss, and Julie Orringer, as well as last year’s winner, David Bezmozgis.  Established more than 50 years ago, in 1963, by Dr. and Mrs. Irving Waltman of West Hartford to honor the memory of the late Edward Lewis Wallant, author of The Pawnbroker and other works of fiction, the Wallant Award is today one of the oldest and most prestigious Jewish literary awards in the United States. It is presented to a Jewish writer, preferably unrecognized, whose published work of fiction is deemed to have significance for the American Jew.

Rebecca Dinerstein is the author of The Sunlit Night and the bilingual English-Norwegian collection of poems, Lofoten. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker, among others. She received her BA from Yale and her MFA in fiction from New York University, where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.

The Sunlit Night takes place in the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, where Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended—Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father’s last wish: to be buried “at the top of the world.” They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. With nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein reveals that no matter how far we travel to claim our own territory, it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.

Reviewers have unanimously praised the novel:

  • “Lyrical as a poem, psychologically rich as a thriller, funny, dark, warm, and as knowing of place as any travel book or memoir, The Sunlit Night marks the appearance of a brave talent.”  —Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • “By turns ravishing and hilarious, The Sunlit Night is more than a shining debut—it’s the work of a young master. Here’s an exciting new voice that sings perfectly in key.” —Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
  • The Sunlit Night is an original work of gentle irony counterpoised by delightful sincerity, which offers distinct turns of phrase with precision and beauty. --- The Wall Street Journal
  • The Norwegian Arctic of Dinerstein’s imagination is a strange and wonderful place, half stark wilderness and half Scandi-kitsch paradise. The constant sunlight of midsummer feeds the book’s dreamy, surreal quality.” --- The New York Times
  • A “captivating debut novel...[Dinerstein’s] prose is lyrical and silky, but it’s also specific, with acute observations and precise detail, and she evokes the sun-stroked, barren Norwegian landscape with a striking sense of place...With provocative insights about the cruelty of abandonment, the concept of home, and the limits of parental and filial love, Dinerstein’s novel is a rich reading experience.” --- Publishers Weekly Starred Review

This year, the Greenberg Center has also named one finalist for the 2015 Wallant Award: Daniel Torday, author of The Last Flight of Poxl West (St. Martin’s Press, 2015). The Last Flight of Poxl West is a book-within-a-book memoir of Poxl West, whose tales of flying bombers for the RAF during WWII make him a larger than life hero to his nephew, Elijah. Torday is a former editor at Esquire, and serves as an editor at The Kenyon Review. He is director of creative writing at Bryn Mawr College.

At the Wallant Award ceremony on April 13, the Greenberg Center will also honor the late Mark Shechner, Professor Emeritus of English at the University at Buffalo. Shechner, who served as a Wallant Award judge from 2007 until his passing in 2015, was the author of, among other books, After the Revolution: Studies in the Contemporary Jewish American Imagination (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); The Conversion of the Jews and Other Essays (London: The Macmillan Press, Ltd; New York:  St. Martin’s, 1990) and Up Society’s Ass, Copper: The Fiction of Philip Roth (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 2003). He was the editor of Preserving the Hunger: An Isaac Rosenfeld Reader, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988); and, with Jean Carney, Jewish Writers and The Deep Places of the Imagination, Selected Essays by Mark Krupnick, (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 2005). In 2014, he published Call Me Moishe: The True Confessions of a White Whale, a novel which retells the story of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, as told by Moby Dick himself through Professor Morris (Moishe, Moe) Dickens, Professor of English at the University of Snowport in upstate New York. His essays and reviews appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Salmagundi, Tikkun and numerous anthologies and collections.

Most recently, Shechner was co-editor of The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2015), a collection of recent works published by Wallant Award winners and finalists in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wallant Award. Above all, he was a witty and keen observer of changing trends in the Jewish literary landscape.

For more information, contact Susan Gottlieb at the Greenberg Center, at 860.768.4964 or mgcjs@hartford.edu. For more information on the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, please see http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/greenberg-center/wallant.html.

Rebecca Dinerstein

Rebecca Dinerstein

Dinerstein's debut novel, "The Sunlit Night."

Dinerstein's debut novel, "The Sunlit Night."