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Alumna Wins PEN Literary Award for First Book

asako serizawa head shot
Asako Serizawa, MFA ’02. Photo/Matthew Modica

Asako Serizawa, MFA ’01 won a 2021 PEN America Literary Award April 8 for her debut story collection, Inheritors (Doubleday, 2020).

Inheritors, a collection of interconnected stories that follow her characters across 150 years of imperialism, war, and upheaval, took the PEN Open Book Award, given to authors of color of book-length works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, or poetry.

“This is really an honor, especially given what’s been happening in New York and Atlanta and Minneapolis and really everywhere,” Serizawa said in her acceptance remarks, delivered during a virtual ceremony and posted on the PEN website. “What’s been helpful to me is the coalition of voices that are resisting easy answers and positions, and PEN America has advocated for so many writers I admire who do this work towards co-existence.”

From the Archives: Q&A: Rona Jaffe Award Winning Asako Serizawa, MFA ‘01

Inheritors also won the Story Prize Spotlight Award, and was longlisted for a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a debut short story collection.

NPR called the book “stunning and visceral.

“These stories follow the impact of exclusion, of cultural and biological manipulation, of men turning away from humanity, of women turning to a desperate agency of sex work, of children creating agency from despair, told through a familial kaleidoscope of perspectives and voices. But Serizawa’s brave storytelling gives us more than an epic arc. She creates a narrative that is in and of itself a multidimensional space.”

Other PEN America Open Book Award finalists this year were Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge (A Treatise on Stars), Hafizah Geter (Un-American), S*an D. Henry-Smith (Wild Peach), and Souvankham Thammavongsa (How to Pronounce Knife: Stories).

Serizawa was born in Japan, and was raised in Singapore, Jakarta, and Tokyo. She holds degrees from Tufts and Brown universities, in addition to an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson, and has received two O.Henry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a fiction fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass.

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