Wilkes University


Wilkes University Alumna Dawn Zera of Forty Fort, Pa., Named Finalist for PEN/Bellwether Prize

Dawn Zera PENBellwether Finalist HeadshotDawn Zera, a resident of Forty-Fort, Pa., and an alumna of the Wilkes University graduate creative writing program, is one of 10 finalists for the prestigious PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction. Zera has been recognized for her manuscript Earth Teach Me.

The award, founded by novelist Barbara Kingsolver, is presented biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that promotes fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.

The winner, chosen by judges Laila Lalami, Brando Skyhorse, and Kathy Pories of Algonquin Books, will be announced on March 1 and will be honored at the 2016 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City on April 11. The winner will receive a $25,000 prize as well as a publishing contract with Algonquin Books.

 Zera’s novel focuses on issues concerning the environment and draws on the history of northeastern Pennsylvania including the Lenape Indians, whose culture is intimately tied to the earth and the natural environment. “The manuscript, at the heart, is about getting in touch with the earth in much the same way that Native Americans are in touch with the earth,” Zera says.

The writer illustrated her point by describing an incident involving her two young sons. “We used to play hide and seek at a beautiful county field near the Wyoming Valley Airport where there was a grove of tall, old trees,” Zera recalls. “One day we went there and the trees had been cut down. Piles of tree limbs were strewn haphazardly on the land. My sons cried. They were devastated. I realized that we, as humankind,  need to get back to that child-like wonder and relationship with the earth.”

Zera is an adjunct professor of writing at the University of Scranton, Marywood University and King’s College. A veteran journalist and public relations professional, she earned master of arts and master of fine arts degrees in creative writing from Wilkes University’s graduate creative writing program. She credits the program with encouraging her to seek a wider audience for her writing.

“I’ve written fiction privately all my life,” Zera says. “The program helped me to realize that my work is worth sharing with the world and that it is possible to help make the world better through writing.”

The PEN American Center works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.