Border Author Wins PEN/Faulkner Literary Award

By Mónica Ortiz Uribe
March 19, 2013

Photo courtesy of Cinco Puntos Press

EL PASO, Texas -- A book of short stories about the U.S./Mexico border is this year's winner of the PEN/Faulkner literary award. The author, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, is the first Latino awarded the prize.

Sáenz's book, "Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club," is a collection of seven short stories that all relate to a legendary bar in the Mexican border city of Juárez. The book tells of the struggles of border life through tales of love, drug addiction and coming of age.

"I owe my career to the border," Saenz said. "These are the people who have given me words. These are the people who've given me life."

Saenz grew up on the border where he's written for the past 20 years. He is currently the chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

His book was published locally by Cinco Puntos Press, an independent company known to nurture authors of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Lee Byrd founded the company with her husband almost 30 years ago.

"Publishing is a little bit of a gamble," Byrd said. "You do what your heart thinks is wonderful and then you hope that other people think it is too. You just never know."

Past recipients of the The PEN/Faulkner award include Philip Roth and John Updike.