English lecturer Bryan Washington awarded two top literary prizes

Acclaimed young author will release his first novel, ‘Memorial,’ in October

For the last 15 years, the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize has recognized the “best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under” with an annual prize of 30,000 pounds (about $37,800). And for the last 30 years, the Lambda Literary Awards have identified and honored the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books.

Bryan Washington won two top literary prizes back to back for his debut short story collection, "Lot." (Photo by David Gracia)

Bryan Washington won two top literary prizes back to back for his debut short story collection, “Lot.” (Photo by David Gracia)

Bryan Washington won both awards back to back in the last month for his debut short story collection, “Lot.”

Washington, who lectures in the English department at Rice, released “Lot” in March 2019 to wide acclaim.

“Introspective and understated, ‘Lot’ gives voice to the silenced pain of Houston’s black and Latinx working class,” Michael Kaler wrote in a Lambda Literary review. “Bryan Washington has a knack for writing subtle stories with impactful endings, and his career seems poised for success.”

Success soon followed: President Barack Obama included “Lot” among his favorite books of 2019 and the editors of the New York Times Book Review chose Washington’s collection for their roundup of the top books of the year.

Prior to winning the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Lambda Literary Awards, Washington received an O. Henry Award and the 13th annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. He is also a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 winner.

"Lot," released in March 2019, tells 13 stories of his hometown, Houston.

“Lot,” released in March 2019, tells 13 stories of his hometown, Houston.

“It’s a gift whenever an audience gives you the time of day for a story, whatever that is, let alone to be acknowledged for your work on such a massive platform,” Washington said of winning the International Dylan Thomas Prize. “And it’s an honor to tell stories about the communities that are dear to me, and the communities that I live among — marginalized communities, communities of color, and queer communities of color, specifically.”

Washington’s statement upon finding out he’d won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction was shorter but no less celebratory: three excited words on Twitter.

“Bryan Washington’s collection of short stories does what all great fiction does — finds a style that can open up a world that is otherwise unknowable — and he does it with wit and grace,” said Dai Smith, Swansea University professor and chair of the judging panel for the Dylan Thomas Prize. “It is a real voice, unique, unforgettable, generous and warm and one which provides us with a sense of community and the full experience of life.”

In October, Washington will release his first novel, which is already garnering equal praise in advance reviews.

“The award-winning young author is set to make a splash this fall with ‘Memorial,’ a highly anticipated novel about family and queer love,” David Canfield wrote for Entertainment Weekly.

For any Houstonian, it’s an instantly evocative title.

“More than anything else, I wanted to write a story that wouldn’t make you feel worse for having read it,” Washington told Canfield. “I’ve been calling it a gay slacker dramedy — which isn’t inaccurate — but I also think it’s a book about trying to navigate the creases a life can hold, and just trying to be OK.”

In the meantime, Washington has been a prolific contributor to the New Yorker in recent weeks, covering everything from the grocers on Houston’s front lines during the COVID-19 quarantine to the George Floyd protests downtown and living “in the shadow of total police impunity” as someone “without the benefit of the doubt.”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.