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Journalist/Author Kenneth Bonert Wins Greenberg Center’s Wallant Award for Debut Novel, "The Lion Seeker"


Posted 01/21/2014
Posted by David Isgur

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The University of Hartford’s Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies has named author Kenneth Bonert the 2013 Edward Lewis Wallant Award winner for his outstanding novel, The Lion Seeker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). The presentation ceremony, which will include a talk by Bonert and comments from the Wallant Award judges, will be held on Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. in the University’s Wilde Auditorium. 

Admission to the Wallant Award presentation ceremony is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Please call 860.768.4964 to make a reservation for the event, which will be held in Wilde Auditorium in the Harry Jack Gray Center on the University of Hartford campus, 200 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford.

Kenneth Bonert’s short stories have appeared in Grain and the Fiddlehead. His story “Packers and Movers” was shortlisted for the Journey Prize and his novella “Peacekeepers, 1995” appeared in McSweeney’s. A one-time journalist, his articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, the National Post and other publications. Born in South Africa, he now calls Toronto home.

The Lion Seeker, which is Bonert’s first novel, tells the coming of age story of ill-fated Isaac Helger, a high school dropout striving to make a success of himself in the inner-city Johannesburg neighborhood of Doornfontein. Isaac is motivated by the desire to purchase a proper home for his mother, Gitelle, who immigrated to South Africa after being scarred during a pogrom in the family’s native Lithuania. Isaac confronts one challenge after another in his quest for redemption as the growing threat of the Second World War darkens Isaac’s world and threatens his extended family. In the novel, Bonert succeeds in bringing to life the world of South African Jewry in all its raw energy with an ear for dialogue that captures the bawdy vernacular of South Africa’s diverse population.

Reviewers have unanimously praised the novel, which was just named recipient of a National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction.

  • Bonert’s writing is “sharp and masterful, clipping along at a breathless pace while still managing to wow us with imagery, clever turns of phrase and believable dialogue peppered with several languages,” Zoe Whittall, The Globe and Mail;
  • “A remarkably assured debut, The Lion Seeker is a riveting, lyrical, and profound journey towards the intersection of private lives and public destinies. Kenneth Bonert has all the makings of a major novelist,” Charles Foran, author of Mordecai: The Life and Times; and
  • The Lion Seeker is a powerful and thoroughly engrossing novel, grand in scope, richly imagined, full of dramatic incident, and crafted in a prose that is by turns rough-hewn and lyrical. To read it is to be reminded how great a great novel can be,” David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World and Natasha: And Other Stories.

As a Wallant Award winner, Bonert joins a distinguished list of past award recipients, including Cynthia Ozick, Curt Leviant, Chaim Potok, Myla Goldberg, Dara Horn, Nicole Krauss, and Julie Orringer as well as last year’s award winner, Joshua Henkin.  Established 51 years ago, in 1963, by Dr. and Mrs. Irving Waltman of West Hartford to honor the memory of the late Edward Lewis Wallant, author of The Pawnbroker and other works of fiction, the Wallant Award is today one of the oldest and most prestigious Jewish literary awards in the United States. It is presented to an American Jewish writer, preferably unrecognized, whose published work of fiction is deemed to have significance for the American Jew. 

The Greenberg Center will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, with the publication of a Wallant Award anthology of past winners and finalists, titled The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction, edited by Victoria Aarons (Trinity University), Mark Shechner (University at Buffalo) and Avinoam Patt (University of Hartford).  The New Diaspora to be published by Wayne State University Press, brings together under one cover a representative group of those writers whose work has either won or been considered for the award. In recognition of the trajectory and development of American Jewish writing in the 50 years since the award was established, the volume reflects the breadth and ongoing vitality of the fiction written by and about Jews in America.

For more information, contact Susan Gottlieb at the Greenberg Center, at 860.768.4964 or mgcjs@hartford.edu. For more information on the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, please see www.hartford.edu/greenberg/wallant.asp.

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