Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Ravij Joseph (Senegal 97-00) and Michael Meyer (China 95-97) were among the ten writers receiving the 2009 Whiting Writers’ Award at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City yesterday evening. This prestigious $50,000 award recognizes young writers for their extraordinary talent and promise and is one of most coveted prizes for up and coming writers. These awards have been given annually since 1985 and past recipients include Michael Cunningham, Kim Edwards, Tobias Wolff, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Mary Karr – all winners before they were acclaimed, bestselling authors.
A native of Minnesota, Michael Meyer joined the Peace Corps with a degree in education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Following graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley he settled on a hutong in 2005, Bejing’s oldest neighborhood in shared courtyard home. At the time, the Chinese government was razing such ancient neighborhoods in its bid to become a modern city for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Meyer volunteered as an English teacher at the local elementary school and recorded the hutong’s vibrant life in his first book, The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, published by Walker & Company in 2008. NPCA’s WorldView magazine carried an excerpt in its Fall 2008 issue. Meyer is currently working on a second book, In Manchuria, which details daily life on a rice farm in Northeast China. Meyer currently resides in New York City, and is moving back to China this fall.
Playwright Rajiv Joseph is the author of Animals Out of Paper, produced at the Second Stage Theatre and published by Dramatists Play Service; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, produced at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles and named Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts; and Gruesome Playground Injuries, scheduled for production in 2010 at the Alley Theatre in Houston and at Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre. He has received a Paula Vogel Award from the Vineyard Theatre and has been a Kesselring, Lark Playwriting and Dramatists Guild Fellow. Mr. Joseph received his BA from Miami University and his MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Living in Brooklyn, he is a founding member of the Fire Department Theater Company and currently a lecturer in NYU’s Expository Writing Program.
Director of the Writers Program, Barbara Bristol says, “This group of writers brings delightful surprises and pleasures. Two transcendent non-fiction writers, one preoccupied with the fascinations of the insect world, and the other with the vibrant life of an ancient Beijing neighborhood; four fearless, dazzling writers of novels and short fiction; three fresh poetic voices; and a provocative, risk-taking playwright. We warmly welcome them into our now distinguished 25-year roster of Whiting Award recipients and look forward to these writers enriching American letters for many years to come.”
Congratulations Rajiv and Michael!