According to IBNA
correspondent quoting from Press-Citizen
, the Paul Engle Prize is awarded to a writer, editor, publisher or teacher who engages with the larger social issues of the day and "has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.
Nayeri emigrated from Iran when she was 8, lived in refugee hostels and moved to America when she was 10. She has published two novels: 2017's ‘Refuge’ and 2013's ‘A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea’. Both novels, and many of her essays and short stories, deal with the modern plight of refugees around the globe.
“Iowa City is where I accepted myself as a writer, as an Iranian and also an American,” Nayeri said in the news release. She also noted the influence of longtime Writers' Workshop instructor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Alan McPherson, who was the first recipient of the Paul Engle Prize. McPherson died in 2016 at 72.
John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said Nayeri "has experience and expertise that can be brought to bare on some of the issues that are challenging the world today.”
Kenyon pointed not only to her writing that "contextualizes what's going on across the world through her own experiences" but also her work volunteering with groups that help refugees.
Kenyon said Nayeri would be qualified to win the award any year, but that she and her work stand out especially this year. Thousands of Syrian refugees have been seeking asylum in the United States and elsewhere abroad this year.
The recent Supreme Court decision in favor of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban on countries that are predominantly Muslim, including Syria, has complicated those refugee's futures even more.
Nayeri's resume also includes work being published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from Princeton University, received her MBA from Harvard University and was both a Truman Capote Fellow and a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Writers' Workshop.
The award is presented at the Coralville library annually during the City of Literature's marquee event, the Iowa City Book Festival. The event features the award being presented as well as a discussion with the author.
The Iowa City Book Festival is set to run Oct. 1-7 in and around Iowa City at multiple locations. Further details about the festival are set to be announced in July, Kenyon said.