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US PEN Center withdraws ‘Stealing Indians’ from YA prize shortlist after criticism

The PEN Center USA has withdrawn John Smelcer’s novel Stealing Indians (Leapfrog Press) from its Young Adult Prize shortlist after several writers publicly questioned Smelcer’s integrity, reports the Guardian.

Stealing Indians was one of four books shortlisted for the prize. The novel tells the story of four Indian teenagers taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools in the 1950s. First published in 2016, it features a quote on its cover from Chinua Achebe, who died in 2013.

Man Booker Prize-winning author Marlon James, who attended the Wilkes University MFA program with Smelcer, was among the writers who criticised Smelcer’s shortlisting. In a Facebook post, James said he would forfeit his PEN membership if Smelcer’s shortlisting wasn’t rescinded.

PEN’s announcement followed investigations into Smelcer’s past and his claims to Native American heritage by the LA Times and the Stranger. Native American writer Sherman Alexie told the Stranger that Smelcer has ‘been held in great suspicion and contempt in the Native world for 25 years’.

PEN said it had ‘become aware of concerns expressed by some within the literary community’ about Smelcer’s nomination. ‘We take these concerns seriously and we are investigating them further to determine an appropriate path forward in accordance with our mission to both celebrate literary merit and defend free expression for all,’ PEN said.


Category: International news Junior