Iraq War Veteran Kevin Powers Named Recipient of Prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for The Yellow Birds

For Immediate Release: February 28, 2013 
Media Contact: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662,  
Ceremony Information: Amy Macdonald (617) 514-1645,  

BOSTON, MA – PEN New England today announced that Kevin Powers, a veteran of the Iraq War, has won the 2013 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished first book of fiction for his critically acclaimed The Yellow Birds (Little Brown). 

Patrick Hemingway, the son of Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway, will present the prestigious literary award to Mr. Powers on Sunday, March 24, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. 

Powers will receive a $10,000 prize from the Hemingway Foundation and PEN New England, as well as a residency in The Distinguished Visiting Writers Series at the University of Idaho’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. 

Born and raised in Richmond, VA, Powers served with the U.S. Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq in 2004 and 2005 where he worked with bomb disposal squads and as a machine gunner. He studied English at Virginia Commonwealth University after his honorable discharge and received an M.F.A. in Poetry from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. 

His novel, called one of the most notable works of fiction in 2012, examines the bond between two privates, and the traumas the two men suffer in battle. 

Colm Tóibín, author of The Testament of Mary and Brooklyn, who will be the featured keynote speaker at the March 24 award ceremony, said of Powers’ novel, "The Yellow Birds is written with an intensity which is deeply compelling; every moment, every memory, every object, every move, are conjured up with a fierce and exact concentration and sense of truth. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed." 

The two Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award finalists are Jennifer duBois for A Partial History of Lost Causes (The Dial Press) and Vaddey Ratner for In the Shadow of the Banyan (Simon & Schuster). 

A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, duBois' work has appeared in PlayboyThe Wall Street JournalThe Missouri ReviewThe Kenyon Review, and Narrative. She was born in Northampton, MA in 1983. As a young child, duBois traveled to Russia with her father, which began her lifelong interest in international politics and Eastern Europe. She has always been drawn to how the political and personal can be threaded in fiction. 

Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in her native Cambodia in 1975. Having endured forced labor, starvation, and near execution, she and her mother escaped while many of her family members perished. In 1981, she arrived in the U.S. as a refugee not knowing English and, in 1990, went on to graduate as her high school class valedictorian and to take her degree from Cornell University summa cum laude. She has since traveled and lived in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, the setting of her debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan. 

Two writers will receive honorable mention: Catherine Chung for Forgotten Country (Riverhead Books) and Peter M. Wheelwright for As It Is On Earth (Fomite). 

The judges for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award this year were acclaimed writers Oscar Hijuelos, Amy Bloom, and Craig Nova. 

Mr. Powers and competition finalists and honorable mentions receive Ucross Residency Fellowships at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers. For more information about this year’s winner, visit 

The late Mary Hemingway, the wife of Ernest Hemingway, founded the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 1976 to honor her late husband and draw attention to first books of fiction. Past recipients of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award include Edward P. Jones, Marilynne Robinson, Ha Jin, and Jhumpa Lahiri. 

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis brought the presentation of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award from New York to the Kennedy Library in 1992. 

The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career, and contains ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis described Mary Hemingway’s gift of Ernest Hemingway’s papers to the Kennedy Library as helping “to fulfill our hopes that the Library will become a center for the study of American civilization, in all its aspects.” 

For more information on the Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library, visit 

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, PEN New England, Cerulli Associates, the Friends of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society sponsor the presentation of the awards. The ceremony includes the presentation of the PEN New England Awards, celebrating best works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction by New England authors. The announcement of these winners is coming soon. 

PEN New England provides a focal point for the literary community, administers literary awards, and presents programs and special events celebrating literature, reading, and the defense of free expression. It is one of three regional branches of PEN American Center, which in turn is part of International PEN, the only worldwide organization of writing professionals. For more information about PEN New England, visit 

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. 

The ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 24, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending should call the Kennedy Presidential Library at (617) 514-1643 or register on-line at to reserve a seat.