News Story

Memoir by English Professor Carolyn Forché Shortlisted for Second Prestigious Award

Department of English professor and renowned poet Carolyn Forché was shortlisted for the esteemed James Tait Black Prize for What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Random House, 2019), which details her experiences in El Salvador between 1978 and 1980. 

This book, which was also listed as a finalist for the 2019 National Book Awards for Nonfiction, describes how a meeting with a stranger during Forché’s time in South America kicked off her long career as a human rights activist.

About this Award

The James Tait Black Prizes, first presented in 1919, are Britain’s oldest literary awards. One prize is given to the author of a work of fiction, the other a work of biography in the previous calendar year. These prizes are distinctive in their selection, as the two academic judges employ the help of postgraduate students to select a winner for each category. 

What You Have Heard is True was shortlisted for the Biography Prize from over 400 entries. Forché says that it is an honor and pleasant surprise to have been named for this award. 

“I confess to being a bit stunned by the news, and am thrilled to be in the company of such extraordinary writers, one of whom, Helon Habila gave a powerful reading at Georgetown’s Lannan Center two years ago,” says Forché. “I’m grateful to all concerned for helping our books to reach a wider readership.”

Ricardo Ortiz, Chair of the English department said that “readers of Forché’s poetry, and admirers of her work in support of a “poetry of witness” more broadly, know-how rooted her career has been for decades in the harrowing events she witnessed in El Salvador in the late 1970s, when that country was falling headlong into civil war.” 

He added that this memoir “has been a long time coming, is well worth the wait, and deserves all the recognition it has been receiving.” 

What You Have Heard is True, in unsparing yet lyrical prose, in turn bears its own witness to those formative experiences, while offering a new generation of readers a blueprint and a model for the kind of work that an engaged creative imagination can do not only to give actual pain a voice it might not otherwise have, but also to show us better worlds beyond and without such pain,” Ortiz continues.  “I am grateful to call Carolyn Forché my colleague and my friend; it humbles and honors me to have the opportunity to work with her, and it delights me to witness every day her deep commitment to Georgetown, to our students and our colleagues, and to the world we’re all trying to serve.”

More About Forché

The lifelong human rights activist was presented the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award for Peace and Culture in Stockholm for her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture. 

Forché is the author of four books of poetry: Gathering The Tribes, which received the Yale Younger Poets Award, The Country Between Us, chosen as the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets, The Angel of History, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Blue Hour, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

She has received three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship and other literary and teaching awards, including the Robert Creeley Award in 2005.

-by Shelby Roller (G’19)