OAKLAND -- PEN Oakland has selected the winners of its 2012 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles National Literary Awards and will be presenting them Saturday at the Rockridge Branch Library.
The nine winners -- seven literary, one censorship and one lifetime achievement -- come from across the United States and share two important characteristics: they reflect a multicultural or marginalized viewpoint and represent the highest standards of literature.
The local organization, dubbed "the blue-collar PEN" by The New York Times, was founded in 1989 as a chapter of PEN International. It honors writers and works of literature often not acknowledged by the mainstream literary community, primarily because they reflect a multicultural or marginalized viewpoint.
"PEN Oakland is the only chapter in the United States to promote works of excellence by writers of all cultural and racial backgrounds and to educate both the public and the media as to the nature of multicultural work," said John Curl, PEN Oakland vice president.
To select each year's winners, the PEN Oakland board, representing a wide variety of viewpoints, nominates a group of respected writers as judges. It is left to each judge to choose a book considered worthy of receiving the award. Eugene Redmond, poet laureate of East St. Louis, Ill., selected Mary Mackey's poetry collection, "Sugar Zone," for a literary award.
In selecting "Sugar Zone," Redmond wrote: "In a mix of liberating and odds-forsaken images, Mary Mackey adds 'tastes of honey/and salt' to the social/natural wounds of her ancient/postmodern/futuristic griefscape. In doing so, she allows you to ride the merry-go-death-of-life cycle into her Sugar Zone."
Mackey, a longtime Berkeley resident and professor emeritus at Cal State Sacramento, is the author of 13 novels, six volumes of poetry and two comic novels, as well as a screenwriter and book reviewer.
The 62 poems that comprise "Sugar Zone" are earthy and lyrical as they journey into the human heart. They touch upon long-term issues Mackey has experienced throughout 40 years of travel to Latin America, the last 25 of those to Brazil with her husband Angus Wright, now a retired professor of environmental studies. "The poems reflect multicultural issues, cross-cultural issues and very heavily on ecological issues," Mackey said. "Some are about the destruction of the rain forest, but some are passionate love poems and others have a mystical quality."
The Portuguese language is another important element of the collection, as Mackey experiments in blending English with Portuguese words and phrases that can't be expressed exactly the same way in English. Reflecting upon her previous work, Mackey sees the same themes recurring.
"The blend of highly detailed realistic observation and the mystical, spiritual, magical aspects that come from Latin America are very strong influences in my work," she said.
Receiving this award, in view of what PEN Oakland represents, is a great honor for Mackey.
"It's a wonderful organization," she said. "That PEN Oakland values very strongly multicultural art that transcends the boundaries of race and gender makes this a great honor and culmination of a long, literary career."
The 2012 PEN Oakland selections are the first step in promoting the nature of multicultural work, the next step rests with readers.
"Literature is a magic key to understanding and participating in the emerging multicultural society," Curl said. "We urge the reading public to expand your perspective by delving into these award-winning books, any one of which will expand your vision of the multilayered society emerging on this continent in this century."
The 22nd Annual 2012 PEN Literary Awards will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Rockridge Branch Library, 5366 College Ave. The event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signings will follow. For a list of winners, go to http://www.penoakland.com/News-Events.html.