Kate Wisel of Monona, Wisconsin, is the 2019 winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for a book of short stories. Her manuscript Driving in Cars with Homeless Men was selected by National Book Award finalist Min Jin Lee from a field of over 530 entries. Driving in Cars with Homeless Men will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press later this year.
“You can hear the crackle of heat and the roar of a powerful fire burning through these pages,” said Lee. “Young angry women, brokenhearted mothers, and men who are lost to themselves and others struggle in the world of Driving in Cars with Homeless Men. Close to the edge, fearful of love yet dying of longing, [Wisel’s characters] are vital and tender. Their stories are incandescent.”
Wisel said her collection is “a love letter to women moving through violence. These linked stories are set in the streets and the bars, the old homes, the tiny apartments, and the landscape of a working-class Boston. They are the collective story of women whose lives careen back into the past, to the places where pain lurks and haunts,” she explained. “With riotous energy and rage, they run towards the future in the hopes of untangling themselves from failure to succeed and fail again.”
A native of Boston, Wisel’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared, or are forthcoming, in publications that include Gulf Coast, New Ohio Review, Tin House online, Redivider as winner of the Beacon Street prize, and on the Boston subway as winner of the “Poetry on the T” contest. The 30-year-old lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she is a fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In addition to publication by UPP, the Heinz award also includes a cash prize of $15,000. Drue Heinz, who passed away last year, created the endowment for this accolade in 1981.
Wisel said she got the news about winning the prize in a hallway at UW-Madison. “To be honest, I was so caught off guard that I felt like I’d either been drugged or shot,” she said. “When you put your whole heart into something, your joy and pain, it’s a part of you. So, I was overwhelmed.”
This year marks a transition in editorship of the DHLP series. Former winner and Carnegie Mellon University professor Jane McCafferty takes over the reins from longtime editor Ed Ochester. McCafferty remarked, “I won this great prize myself (in 1992 for Director of the World and Other Stories) and I’ve no idea where I’d be without it, since it shaped my entire career. I’m honored and happy to take over for Ed, who did such an amazing job for so many years.”
Driving in Cars with Homeless Men, ISBN 9780822945680, will be on sale October 1. To preorder Wisel’s new book, visit the book page on our website.