Photo by Mark Lambie for the El Paso Times via Las Cruces Sun-News
"This award allows me to keep my job for a while," Saenz, who is 58, said Tuesday. As reported by the Las Cruces Sun-News, "He paused, took a breath and said he considered his writing a gift for which he thanked his mother, his friends, and 'everyone who has ever loved me, inspired me and believed in me.'"
The book of stories in Everything Begins and Ends a the Kentucky Club was published by the independent Cinco Puntos Press and is set on the border between Mexico and Texas, which is obviously a contentious topic for many in the country and politicians as they weigh decisions on immigration reform at th emoment. Saenz is the first Hispanic writer to win the award since its inception in 1981.
"The borderland--the frontera--gave me words, gave me language, a point of view," he said.
The PEN/Faulkner Foundation gives the annual award named for renowned Nobel Prize author William Faulkner, and it carries a $15,000 prize.
Saenz's book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was selected by the American Library Association as the best young adult novel about the Latino cultural experience and the best book about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience.
Saenz has been a member of the faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso since 1992 and is currently at work on a new book of poems, Night Disappearing into a Patient Sky. In a review of his book Carry Me Like Water, Gina Ruiz wrote:
"This lush and touching novel by Benjamin Alire Saenz, a series of interconnected stories of a most amazing cast of characters, is simply astounding....All in all, it is an amazing story, a commentary on life, on the issues that plague us today like border crossings, prejudice, AIDS, being Chicano, being gay, love, death and fear. The dialogue is crisp and interesting, each chapter seamlessly flows like the river into the next. It is poetic, which is not surprising considering Saenz is an eloquent Chicano poet. As in his other book, In Perfect Light, he has created a masterpiece of imagery, color and a unique and beautiful story."
In the clip below he reads from his YA book, Last Night I Sang to the Monster: