Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Penn and ink earn book award

July 5, 2001
East Lansing resident and MSU professor Bill Penn recently won the American Book Award for his novel, “Killing Time With Strangers” —

William Penn called home from California in May expecting a full report of the day’s activities from his wife and children.

He wasn’t expecting to hear that he’d won the American Book Award.

“I said, ‘Uh, yeah right,’” the MSU English professor said. “I didn’t think my wife would tease me with that. She played the answering machine for me over long distance. It took about two days to sink in.”

Penn’s newest novel, “Killing Time with Strangers,” is the award-winning work.

The book chronicles the life of a young man seeking to find his perfect love - but with every mishap, he must face the consequences.

The novel took several years and several drafts to complete while Penn worked to include Native American influences that have become well-recognized in his other works.

“It’s a funny book with serious intent,” he said. “The way I work is I keep doing whole drafts until I’m happy with it.

“In the final draft, I didn’t even look back to see if it was good. I knew I’d done it.”

Penn accepted the award in Chicago last month with his family watching - proof that his wife wasn’t just teasing him.

“With him being tucked down in the basement, this was the manifestation of his success,” said Jennifer Penn, the author’s wife. “The kids had a great time. It was wonderful for them to be a part of this.”

Although William Penn has spent much of his time away from the classroom working on his novels, short story collections and essays, Jennifer Penn said it isn’t difficult to deal with the schedule.

“I don’t really suffer,” she said. “He’s down in the basement. I have the run of the household.”

But with the success of his new book, Penn is adding another item to his résumé, and more projects to his daily routine. Three more books are in progress right now.

He has won the North American Indian Prose Award, the Critics Choice Award, the Stephen Crane Prize for fiction and has been selected as the Writer of the Year and Editor of the Year for the Worldcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

But the American Book Award sets a new precedent for the writer.

“One never really expects to win that kind of prize, but I can’t say I was really surprised,” said Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Department of English. “Bill’s work has been gaining respect for several years now. I think it’s well-deserved recognition.”

O’Donnell expects Penn’s success as a writer to show in his classes this fall.

“I think it reflects very well on him,” he said. “I think it’s a good sign of the kind of faculty that we have here.”

With more books waiting to be published, Penn just hopes he can continue to write in his basement office, spend time with his family and teach students who love writing.

“You can want to be famous more than you can want to write a good book,” he said. “I wanted that when I was 25, didn’t get it obviously, and I’m very glad that I didn’t. You just have to write.

“Life may be a record of failure. At the end of the novel, the last sentence comes to that.

“That may not sound like much inspiration for doing a novel, but that’s what happened.”

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