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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Black Elk Biography Wins Prestigious PEN Award

Joe Jackson, who holds the Mina Hohenberg Darden Chair in Creative Writing at Old Dominion, has won the 2017 PEN Award for his biography of Black Elk, a Native American holy man.

Jackson has served as the Darden Chair since fall, 2016. The PEN selection, in the biography category, marks the first time a member of the University's masters of fine arts faculty has won the prestigious literary award, said Dana Heller, interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Eminent Scholar.

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children's literature, and drama. With the help of our partners, PEN America confers over 20 distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes each year, awarding nearly $315,000 to writers and translators, according to the PEN organization.

Jackson's "Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary" is also a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award in the biography category. The winner of that competition will be announced March 16.

"'Black Elk' is an important book, and I'm thrilled it's getting the recognition it deserves," said John McManus, director of the University's master of fine arts program in creative writing.. We're lucky to have a biographer of his stature on the creative writing faculty."

"Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary," published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, chronicles the Sioux healer who participated in the Battle at Little Bighorn and once traveled to Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. He adopted Catholicism in his 40s and in his later years blended the Catholic religion and Native American traditions.

"He starts performing the old dances again," Jackson said in an interview in the fall 2016 issue of Monarch magazine. "He's gone back to the old ways, but he's still a Catholic."

The Boston Globe said Jackson's narrative skill makes this long biography a "gripping, even thrilling read." The Times Literary Supplement in London called the book "an astonishingly rich saga."

Jackson has written one novel and six nonfiction books, including "The Thief at the End of the World," which was named one of Time magazine's top 10 nonfiction books of 2008, and "Leavenworth Train," a finalist for the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime book.

"Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary" is available for purchase at the University Village Bookstore on Monarch Way.