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Meet the 2021 Oregon Book Awards judges

Literary Arts selects out-of-state judges for the Oregon Book Awards based on their extensive experience and literary expertise. Each genre has three judges, and judges select the finalists and winners in each genre. The 2021 Oregon Book Award winners will be announced on May 2, 2021, on a special episode of The Archive Project, airing on OPB Radio at 7:00 p.m. The hour-long show will be hosted by Omar El Akkad and Elena Passarello, and will feature readings from Oregon Book Awards winners, archival audio from previous Oregon Book Awards ceremonies, and an interview with CES Wood recipient Molly Gloss.

Here are the 2021 Oregon Book Awards judges, listed by genre.

Judges: Michael Byers, Joseph Cassara, Hilary Leichter

Michael Byers is the author of the story collection The Coast of Good Intentions, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the novels Percival’s Planet and Long for This World, winner of the First Novel Award from Virginia Commonwealth University. Both were New York Times Notable Books. A former Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner, he teaches at the University of Michigan.

Joseph Cassara is the author of The House of Impossible Beauties (Ecco/HarperCollins), which won the 2018 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction. He is the George & Judy Marcus Chair of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.  

Hilary Leichter is the author of Temporary, which was shortlisted for The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, n+1, and Harper’s. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

Judges: Tyree Daye, Erika Meitner, Kathryn Neuenberger

Tyree Daye is a Teaching Assistant Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is the author of two poetry collections River Hymns and Cardinal from Copper Canyon Press 2020Daye is a Cave Canem fellow. Daye won the 2019 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes Fellowship, 2019 Diana and Simon Raab Writer-In-Residence at UC Santa Barbara, and is a 2019 Kate Tufts Finalist. Daye most recently was awarded a 2019 Whiting Writers Award.

Erika Meitner is the author of five books of poems, including Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions, 2018), which was the winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is currently a professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Kathryn Nuernberger’s latest book is The Witch of Eye, which is about witches and witch trials. She is also the author of the poetry collections, RUEThe End of Pink and Rag & Bone, as well as a collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past. She teaches poetry and nonfiction for the MFA program at University of Minnesota.

Judges:  May-Lee Chai, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Heather Sellers

May-lee Chai is the author of ten books of fiction, nonfiction, and translation, including her latest short story collection, Useful Phrases for Immigrants, recipient of the American Book Award. She teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her writing has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, named a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book, and recipient of an honorable mention for the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Book Awards.  

Ingrid Rojas Contreras‘s first novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree was the silver medal winner in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and a New York Times editor’s choice. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Buzzfeed, Nylon, and Guernica, among others. She is a Visiting Writer at Saint Mary’s College. She is working on a family memoir about her grandfather, a curandero from Colombia who it was said had the power to move clouds.  

Heather Sellers is the author of The Practice of Creative Writing and two additional books on the craft of writing as well as a children’s book, three volumes of poetry, Georgia Under Water (fiction), and a memoir, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, featured in O, the Oprah Magazine and an O book-of-the month club pick, and Editor’s Choice at the New York Times. She is a faculty member in the MFA program at the University of South Florida. The Present State of the Garden, a collection of poetry, is forthcoming from Lynx House Press. Field Notes from the Flood Zone is forthcoming from BOA Editions. 

Judges: Jordanna Bailkin, Farid Matuk, Adam Sowards 

Jordanna Bailkin is Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she teaches British, European, and imperial histories. She has been dedicated to exploring the global dimensions of British studies and participating in scholarly and public conversations about Britain’s shifting status in the world. She is the author of three books: The Culture of Property (Chicago, 2004), The Afterlife of Empire (Berkeley, 2012), and Unsettled (Oxford, 2018). She has written numerous articles on topics ranging from tattooing in British Burma and murder in British India to radio in decolonizing Africa.

Farid Matuk has lived in the U.S. since the age of six as an undocumented person, a “legal” resident, and a naturalized citizen. He is the author of the poetry collections This Isa Nice Neighborhood (Letter Machine) and The Real Horse (University of Arizona Press), and of several chapbooks including My Daughter La Chola (Ahsahta). His work has been anthologized in The Best American Experimental Poetry and in Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing, among others. Matuk serves as poetry editor at FENCE and on the editorial board for the book series Research in Creative Writing at Bloomsbury. 

Adam Soward is the Director of the Program in Pacific Northwest Studies at the University of Idaho. He is the author of United States West Coast: An Environmental History, An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest and The Environmental Justice: William O. Douglas and American Conservation.

Judges: Nikki McClure, Eliot Schrefer, Wendy Wahman

Nikki MClure is a papercut artist and the author and illustrator of Waiting for High TideCollect RaindropsInMama, Is It Summer Yet?To Market, To MarketApple; and How to Be a Cat. She is also the illustrator of All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant and May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain. Nikki lives in Olympia, Washington.

Eliot Schrefer  is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. He is the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

Former Seattle P-I newspaper artist, Wendy Wahman now writes and illustrates children’s books. Her debut picture book , Don’t Lick the Dog, was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Her new picture book, Old Pearl, releases June 1, 2021. Wendy’s editorial illustrations have appeared in major publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.

Judges: David Macinnis Gill, Cynthia Hand, Sheba Karim

David Macinnis Gill is the author of Black Hole SunInvisible SunShadow on the SunRising Sun, and the debut novel, Soul Enchilada, from Greenwillow/Harper Collins. He is an associate professor of English education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens, including the UNEARTHLY trilogy, The Last Time We Say Goodbye, My Lady Jane, and My Plain Jane (with fellow authors Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows), and the novel My Calamity Jane. She currently resides in Boise, Idaho

Sheba Karim’s next novel, The Marvelous Mirza Girls, will be released in May, 2021. She is the author of the YA novels Skunk GirlThat Thing We Call a Heart, which made several Best Book lists including Bank Street and Kirkus, and Mariam Sharma Hits the Road, which was named a NPR Best Book of the Year.

Judges:  Michelle Carter, Diana Grisanti, KJ Sanchez

Michelle Carter is a two-time recipient of the PEN USA Award in Drama.  She has also received the Susan Glaspell Award, the Ebell Playwright Prize, and the PEN West Award.  She’s held residencies at Berkeley Repertory Theater’s Ground Floor, the Donmar Warehouse in London, and the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris.  Her plays have been produced and developed at Playwrights Horizons, the Moscow Art Theater, the Grimeborn Opera Festival in London, and elsewhere.

Diana Grisanti is a playwright, educator, and Co-Artistic Director of Theatre [502] in Louisville, Kentucky. Her plays include The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep (Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte), River City (NNPN Rolling World Premiere), Mandatory(Weber State University), and Bowling for Beginners (Vanderbilt University). She was a contributing writer on the bluegrass-inspired anthology That High Lonesome Sound (Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville), and she is part of the third cohort of the Audible Emerging Playwrights Fund. Currently, she is at work on El Guayabo/The Guava Tree, a bilingual musical for Creede Repertory Theatre, with composer Emiliano Messiez and director Ismael Lara. Diana has been a Michener Fellow, a Kentucky Arts Council Fellow, and a Writer in Residence at Vanderbilt University. She is the Visiting Head of MFA Playwriting at Indiana University. 

KJ Sanchez  is the head of Playwriting/Directing at the University of Texas at Austin and runs the M.F.A. in Directing program. She is a director, producer, playwright and sometimes actor. She’s also the founder and CEO of American Records, dedicated to making theatre that chronicles our time, theatre that serves as a bridge between people. Sanchez recently directed Octavio Solis’s Quixote Nuevo, which was produced at Hartford Stage, Huntington Theatre Company in Boston and Alley Theatre in Houston.

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