Nina McConigley's ‘Cowboys and East Indians' Wins PEN Award

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Nina McConigley

University of Wyoming Department of English Lecturer Nina McConigley has received the PEN Open Book Award for collection of short stories, titled “Cowboys and East Indians,” it was announced on Aug. 13. The other winner was Ruth Ellen Kocher for her work, titled “domina Un/blued.”

“The prize recognizes the best book in 2013 written by a writer of color — and it’s pretty amazing that it comes out of Wyoming,” McConigley told NBC News. “Other people on the short-list have been nominated for the Booker Prize and won Guggenheims — so it was amazing company, she said, adding, “I honestly did not think I would win. Just making the short-list and long-list seemed pretty great,” she said.

Winners will be honored at the Literary Awards Ceremony to be held on Sept. 29 at The New School’s Auditorium in New York City.

Formerly the Beyond Margins Awards, the PEN Open Book Award offers a $5,000 prize to an author of color for book-length writings committed to racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities. Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry and other works of literary character are strongly preferred.

Published by FiveChapters Books, “Cowboys and East Indians” is a collection of short stories set in Wyoming that explores the immigrant experience and the collisions of cultures in the American West. Several stories in the award-winning book began when McConigley was working on her M.A. thesis with UW Professor Alyson Hagy, she told NBC News.

Born in Singapore to an Irish father and an Indian mother, McConigley grew up in Casper, Wyoming. She holds a master’s degree in English from UW, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Houston, and a bachelor’s degree in literature from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

McConigley also has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the “Best American New Voices.” Her play, “Owen Wister Considered,” was produced in 2005 for the Edward Albee New Playwrights Festival. She was the 2010 recipient of the Wyoming Arts Council’s Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Writing Award and was a finalist for the 2011 Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award.

Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction and the Asian American Literary Review, among others.

McConigley told NBC her new book, currently in the works, will be set in 1980’s Wyoming. “The book revolves around two families that live together in an extended family situation,” she said.

“There is a murder and a chunk of the book takes place in India,” she said, adding, “It’s not a mystery per se, but I am indulging my deep love of Agatha Christie, which makes me very happy.”

International PEN, the worldwide association of writers, was founded in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers everywhere; to emphasize literature’s role in developing mutual understanding and world culture; to fight for freedom of expression; and to act as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and, sometimes, killed for their views.