University of Rochester

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum Wins Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize

December 14, 2005

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum has been named the recipient of the annual Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize at the University of Rochester for her debut novel, Madeleine is Sleeping. The work, which has garnered lavish praise for its sensuous fantasy, lush imagery, and incisive language, also was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Bynum, who is the recipient of a 2005 Whiting Writer Award, will come to the University for a reading and book signing at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006, in the Welles-Brown Room in Rush Rhees Library on the University's River Campus. The Kafka Prize, which was established in 1976 in memory of editor Janet Heidinger Kafka, carries a $5,000 award and is presented by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester.

"Madeleine is Sleeping is a beautiful, bold, visionary collage of a novel," said Joanna Scott, the Roswell F. Burrows Professor of English and chair of the Kafka Prize selection committee at the University. "Dreams and dreaming, love and longing, solitude and death, the recuperative powers of memory, the productive powers of imagination—these are some of the big subjects explored in Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's brilliant book."

Alternating between reality and illusion, Madeleine is Sleeping (Harcourt Trade Publishers, 2004) follows the dreams of a young girl in a deep, impenetrable slumber. Bynum crisscrosses the borders between the real word and the world of dreams to explore the title character's self-discovery as Madeleine leaves home, joins a gypsy circus, and falls into an unexpected triangle of desire and love.

The novel was also a finalist for the New York Library Young Lions Fiction Award and was named to the best book lists of Publisher's Weekly and Washington Post Book World, which described Bynum's narration as "delicate, grave and almost evanescent . . . A voice at once sensuous and humorous, mellifluous and matter-of-fact." The New York Times called the novel "audacious" and "extravagantly imagined."

Bynum's short fictions have appeared in the Georgia Review, TriQuarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Best American Short Stories of 2004. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Iowa Writer's Workshop. An associate professor of writing at University of California at San Diego, Bynum teaches courses in fiction writing, the novella, hypertext, and theory for writers. She lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles.

Bynum's reading is free and open to the public. For more information, visit or contact (585) 275-8318.