PEN America, the literary and human rights organization, announced that Edmund White [A&U, February 2008], seventy-eight, has won the 2018 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Fiction. In the award citation, PEN America stated, “Unsentimental tenderness, sharply observant wit, and an unsparing examination of the self, mark the fiction of this year’s winner. To the age of AIDS, the age of loss, the struggle against evangelical Christian hatred, the explosion of gender identities, Edmund White employs a deceptively light touch.”
The award, established in 2009 to honor living American fiction writers, has previously been won by literary lions Phillip Roth, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Toni Morrison. “I admire them all,” White told Time Magazine, “so it’s very nice to be in that company—but it feels almost too exalted.”
In addition to his trio of autobiographic novels, A Boy’s Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), White has also written literary biographies of iconic literary legends Jean Genet, Marcel Proust, and Arthur Rimbaud, as well as the memoirs Our Paris: Sketches from Memory (1995), My Lives (2005), City Boy (2009), and Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris (2014).
White, who is HIV-positive himself, helped found the group Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City in 1982. In his memoirs and in the groundbreaking survey of gay life in America, States of Desire, White has been quite open about his promiscuity.
Currently a professor of creative writing in Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, White is writing “full speed ahead” on his next novel, A Saint in Texas.
—Reporting by Hank Trout