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Monday, August 15

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Awards Mon Oct 15 2012

Nami Mun Receives 21st Century Award

To be nominated for an award in your field, is always an honor. For novelist Nami Mun to be named the recipient of this year's 21st Century Award, given to emerging Chicago authors, is more than simply an honor; it's a recognition that solidifies her place in our city's storied literary legacy with the likes of Wright, Bellow, and Algren. The Chicago Public Library Foundation presents this award annually, with past recipients including Patrick Somerville in 2009 (This Bright River) and Audrey Niffenegger in 2004 (Her Fearful Symmetry).

Mun, a Korean American who grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City, is known for her short stories, and those she skillfully weaved into her debut novel, Miles from Nowhere. She keeps busy as a full-time faculty member in Columbia College Chicago's Fiction Writing department, volunteering for National Runaway Switchboard, and writing meticulous and powerful short stories (such as The Anniversary in Granta issue 114).

Despite her busy schedule, Mun was available to answer some questions capturing her reaction to being selected to receive this prestigious honor.

What was your first reaction when you found out you were chose to receive this award?

Stunned. I had to clean my apartment for a long while just to process the information.

The 21st Century award honors a Chicago author of significant achievement. Knowing you to be hard working and dedicated to your writing, how does it feel to receive such an award?

In many ways I feel this award is more a validating statement about Chicago than about me. During a time when the humanities are under attack, the people of Chicago and the Chicago Public Library Foundation are saying, through this award, that humanities matter. That literature matters. That understanding the poles of human experience matters. I am extremely honored and feel happy for myself, but this election year makes me realize that an award is rarely solely for the individual receiving it.

At this point in your career, does being chosen to receive this award feel as a sort of validation?

Yes and no. Recently a teacher who teaches writing to the men at the San Bruno County Jail in California wrote to tell me how much her class appreciated my novel. She said, "As you can imagine, they don't much like anything, especially anything that they are presented with at the jail." That my writing touched these men--incarcerated, possibly jaded, possibly angry at society or with themselves--absolutely affected me, told me that I was on the right track. Awards are humbling and wonderful in that they validate my work to others. But finding out that a reader has connected with my work--that lights a firecracker in my chest.

The Chicago Public Library Foundation and the Chicago Public Library will present Mun this award Wednesday October 17 at Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner.

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