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Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize

The Kafka Prize Winner for Fiction Published in 2016

The 2017 recipient of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction is Elizabeth Poliner, for her novel As Close to Us As Breathing.

Meet the author!

On Wednesday, November 1, 2017 Poliner will visit Rochester for a reading and award ceremony, followed by an hors d’oeuvres reception and book signing in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of the Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester. The event begins at 6:00pm. Books will be available for purchase, provided by the Barnes and Noble Campus Bookstore. Free parking is available in Library Lot.

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From the Kafka Prize Committee

Although Elizabeth Poliner’s As Close to Us as Breathing takes place within the confines of a small seaside community, the story the novel tells is nothing short of epic. Unfolding over multiple generations of an American-Jewish family, Poliner’s work encompasses a world much larger than the one defined by its locale. The story is haunted by a very real death that occurs at the beginning of the book and forever alters the dynamic of the family, especially the relationship of the sisters Ada, Vivie and Bec. However, there is a melancholy to the novel, set in 1948, that seems rooted even deeper than the tragedy that befalls the family: in the horrors of the recently concluded second world war, the struggle at the settling of the Israeli state, or the stifling social roles the family has inherited from an old world left behind long ago. Religion and tradition have made decisions for the characters' lives that are difficult to evade. Yet, there is also a grace to the prose that allows sunlight in. It is, after all, a beach novel and there are beaches, young love, baseball, vivid descriptions of family objects that are almost tactile. And, perhaps most significantly, it has a big, deep-beating human heart at its center that draws the reader in through empathy with the characters, who, like many of us, struggle to do what is expected of us, rather than what we desire.

More about Elizabeth Poliner and As Close to Us As Breathing

About the Award

Since 1976, the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester have awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman. The idea for the prize came out of the personal grief of the friends and family of a fine young editor who was killed in an automobile accident just as her career was beginning to achieve its promise of excellence. She was 30 years old, and those who knew her believed she would do much to further the causes of literature and women. Her family, her friends, and her professional associates in the publishing industry created the endowment from which the prize is bestowed, in memory of Janet Heidinger Kafka and the literary standards and personal ideals for which she stood.

Each year a substantial cash prize is awarded annually to a woman who is a USA citizen, and who has written the best book-length work of prose fiction, whether novel, short stories, or experimental writing. We are particularly interested in calling attention to the work of a promising but less established writer.

About the Committee

This year's Committee members were:

  • Beth Jörgensen, Professor of Spanish, University of Rochester
  • Jason Peck, Visiting Assistant Professor of German, University of Rochester
  • Katherine Mannheimer, Associate Professor of English, University of Rochester