Spec Fic Writers Named 2019 Neukom Institute Awards Winners

News subtitle

Two Books and a Play Set in Near Future Tell Cautionary & Optimistic Tales 


June 4, 2019 – Working from a shortlist of imaginative pieces that question human nature, the nature of technology and the state of our natural world, Dartmouth’s Neukom Institute is proud to announce the winners of the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards for speculative fiction and playwriting:

  • 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction (Debut Category)
    Peng Shepherd, The Book of M (William Morrow, 2018)
  • 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction (Open Category)
    Audrey Schulman, Theory of Bastards (Europa Editions, 2018)
  • 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Playwriting
    Francisco Mendoza, Machine Learning

“The speculative fiction genre just seems to get more and more interesting,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth. “These works demonstrate how the setting of an imagined future can be used to explore and expose universal questions of human nature.”

The book awards were judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, two widely-recognized veterans of the spec fic community. The play award was judged by a panel of experts from Northern Stage, VoxFest, Dartmouth’s Department of Film and Media Studies, Dartmouth’s Department of Theater and The Civilians theater company. 

In addition to the opportunity to develop and discuss their work, each award winner will receive a $5,000 honorarium.

Spec Fic Page-Turners

Peng Shepherd won the debut book category for her novel The Book of M, in which ordinary people in a near-future world are caught in “the Forgetting,” an extraordinary epidemic of memory loss. Shepherd’s book explores fundamental questions of memory, connection and morality in a world where the lights have gone out.  

“It’s an outstanding first novel. Very ambitious, highly imaginative, and hits all the right emotional beats. Parts of it took my breath away,” said Ann VanderMeer.

The open book category winner, Audrey Schulman’s Theory of Bastards, is an exploration of survival and evolution. Set in a primate reserve research facility in the near future, the book tackles questions of connection, communication, love, and respect among humans and their closest evolutionary relatives as well as between the species.

“Beautifully written, provocative and yet highly satisfying, this novel took lots of risks. And it paid off in this remarkable story. Unlike many dystopian novels, this one gives you hope for humanity and the future without being sentimental,” said Ann VanderMeer.

Both Shepherd and Schulman will visit Dartmouth in October to participate on a panel with Rockmore and the VanderMeers to discuss their works and the speculative fiction genre.

“One of the unique qualities of the Neukom Awards includes this wonderful opportunity for dialog and discussion around the winning books. And especially at this critical time in our collective history, it’s useful to come together over how speculative fiction can help us find a way to a better future,” said Jeff VanderMeer.

Spec Fic for the Stage

The 2019 Neukom award winner for playwriting is Francisco Mendoza, whose play, “Machine Learning,” draws on insights from the immigrant experience and the human relationship with technology to detail how a computer scientist’s intelligent nursing app both repairs and complicates his troubled relationship with his father.  

Mendoza will receive assistance with the play’s development in the form of a reading with VoxFest at Dartmouth College in July, and a staged reading at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont, during the 2019/2020 season.

“Francisco has written a moving and complicated vision of our potential future,” said Jess Chayes, associate artistic director of Northern Stage. “What distinguishes Machine Learning is its use of a story about artificial intelligence to isolate and examine the very things that make us human. Northern Stage is thrilled to be partnering for the second year with the Neukom Institute, and looks forward to contributing to the development of this play.”

The awards program serves as part of the Neukom Institute’s mission to explore the possibilities of computational science, including the ways in which computational ideas impact society.

For more on the awards program or the winners, visit the Neukom Institute awards website at: https://sites.dartmouth.edu/neukominstitutelitawards/