Jill Ciment has been named the recipient of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize at the University of Rochester for her novel The Tattoo Artist. The prize, whose recipients have included Toni Morrison, Gail Godwin, and Cristina Garcia, is awarded annually to female authors of exceptional works of fiction by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English.
Ciment will give a reading, followed by a reception and book signing, at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus. The event is free and open to the public.
The Tattoo Artist (Pantheon, 2005) narrates the life of a New York City shopgirl-turned-artist whose marriage to a banker's son gives her entry into the 1920s modernist art scene. Hit hard by the Depression, the couple travels to the South Seas in search of native art and is stranded on an island famous for its full-body tattooing. After the tragic death of her husband, the artist turns her skin into a tattooed expression of love and loss.
"This is a powerfully imagined portrait of a young artist in 1920s and 1930s America," said Janet Catherine Berlo, professor of art and art history and chair of the Kafka Prize selection committee at the University. "Her sojourn in the South Pacific leads to a life in which her own body is the canvas for her art." Noting that the committee members were immediately and unanimously impressed upon reading the book, Berlo said, "Ciment has written a simply unforgettable story."
Ciment's writing has been described as "luminous . . . sad, affecting" by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, and as "rich in observation and insight" by Merle Rubin writing in the Los Angeles Times. Ciment's other novels include The Law of Falling Bodies (Poseidon, 1993) and Teeth of the Dog (Crown, 1999). Ciment is also the author of Small Claims, a 1986 collection of short stories and novellas; one of the stories, "Astronomy," received the Discovery Prize from Chanticleer Films/Columbia Pictures and was made into a film for American Playhouse.
Ciment has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Foundation for the Arts. She is a professor of English at the University of Florida and lives in Gainesville.
The Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize was established in 1976 in tribute to the memory of Janet Kafka, a young editor whose untimely death ended a career many felt would have furthered the causes of women and literature. Ciment will accept the prize, which carries a $5,000 award, when she gives her reading on Nov. 8. For more information, contact (585) 275-8318.