Member Profiles: Cylin Busby, Victoria Chang, Bayne Gibby, Ron Koertge, and Shanna Mahin



MEMBER PROFILE: Cylin Busby
Children’s/Young Adult Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
What excites me most about being a member of PEN Center USA is joining an author community on the West Coast. Writing is, by nature, a very isolating job, and while I love it (and consider myself an introvert), it’s always refreshing to meet other authors in my area. I especially like that PEN Center USA is focused on writers west of the Mississippi; as we often feel very cut off from the publishing center of New York City, it’s nice to have a strong community on the West Coast.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
Meeting the other judges in my category was a real treat—I’ve read Ron Koertge’s books so it was wonderful to finally meet him and to discuss writing and the hardship of having unusual, hard to spell names! I don’t have the chance to meet many picture book authors in my YA world, so getting to know Bayne Gibby was especially nice.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
Freedom to write means that authors and reporters are free to express their opinion and even their fictional worlds without restraint. It also means that readers should be able to find and explore different viewpoints, from all sorts of writers, and be exposed to different perspectives, without censorship from the government, educators, or religious bias.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I’ve been rereading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, in advance of the final book coming out this month. Her writing is so effortless, and I love that as a strong feminist literary celebrity, she has maintained her anonymity and remains an enigma.

Cylin Busby is an award-winning author of middle-grade and young adult books, known for her best-selling memoir, The Year We Disappeared. She started her publishing career as an editor at Random House and was later Senior Editor of Teen magazine. Her latest novel for young readers is The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs (February 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers).




MEMBER PROFILE: Victoria Chang
Poetry Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
The sense of mission and community and all the good people that work there. I also love programs such as the Literary Awards and the Emerging Voices Fellowship—all wonderful ways the organization contributes to the literary community.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
Reading—I love reading books, especially current ones. And thinking, and discussing, with the other judges.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
As an Asian American female poet and writer, I think this mission is vastly important to me. This nation is in the midst of a big change and its wonderful writers of color and people of color finally seem to be able to have their voices heard. PEN Center USA is a big part of that sea change.

Victoria Chang's third book of poems, The Boss, published by McSweeney's in 2013, won the PEN Center USA 2014 Literary Award for Poetry and a California Book Award. Her other books are Salvinia Molesta and Circle. Her debut picture book, Is Mommy?, will be published this fall by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. She lives in Southern California. Her website is victoriachangpoet.com.




MEMBER PROFILE: Bayne Gibby
Children's/Young Adult Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
Anywhere that the love of reading and creating stories is being ignited in others excites me!

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
I read such a huge selection of books, some that I would've never been exposed to otherwise. It gave me a sense of the enormous amount of work that exists out there to be enjoyed. I also really enjoyed discussing the books with the other judges. We had a very intimate, very interesting little book club of our own!

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
Expression is empowering! The freedom to write means that all expression is encouraged and valid. Everyone's voice deserves to be heard.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
Aside from this questionnaire, I am reading picture book manuscripts of works in progress by fellow writers in my critique group. We are busy utilizing our freedom to write!

Bayne Gibby is an actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her first children's book You Mean the World to Me (Scholastic) was published in 2013.




MEMBER PROFILE: Ron Koertge
Children’s/Young Adult Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
PEN Center USA is basically on the side of the angels. Among other things, PEN Center USA fights for freedom of expression. As a writer who is and has been and hopes to be banned, that means a lot to me.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
Second of all, I get to read a lot of good books. But first of all, there are always young writers who haven’t been battered senseless yet and their enthusiasm for the craft is cleansing.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
It means I’m free to make mistakes and sometimes enemies.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
Once a year I read Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje. It’s that time of year.

Ron Koertge writes fiction for young adults and poetry for everybody. His latest book for older teens is Coaltown Jesus, and his latest book of poems is The Ogre’s Wife.




MEMBER PROFILE: Shanna Mahin
Creative Nonfiction Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
Well, I’ve actually been a member since 2007, when I was awarded a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellowship. Selfishly, I have to point to that program (among the many other great programs PEN Center USA provides for the writing community and for the world), because it quite literally changed my life, not just as a writer, but as a literary citizen.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
Again, selfishly (do you see a pattern here?), I have to say it was the opportunity to engage in conversation with my esteemed co-judges. Reading and writing are usually very solitary pursuits for me, and this was like being in an intimate book club with two genius members as we winnowed our favorites down to a short list. This process, by the way, was not an easy one. There were a lot of great books this year. In my opinion, there would have been at least a baker’s dozen if we’d been asked to create a longlist.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
Sadly, I’m having a horrible bout of insomnia, which should be good for a voracious reader like me, but unfortunately it’s left me so spacey and easily distracted that I’m having a hard time reading anything but short pieces on the Internet. It’s awful.

But the books waiting patiently on my bedside table are Ellen Urbani’s Landfall, Wendy C. Ortiz’s Hollywood Notebook, Sean H. Doyle’s This Must Be the Place, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children, Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women, and Karolina Waclawiak’s The Invaders. And that’s just what I can see from where I’m sitting. I keep buying the books I want to read and they’re piling up all over the place. I’m praying for a hormonal change or whatever it’s going to take to get me back on track, because it’s getting crazy around here with the piles of unread books.

Shanna Mahin is a high school dropout with a fierce desire to disprove her ninth-grade English teacher's prediction of “a lifetime of wasted potential.” She mourns his passing, in part for the missed opportunity to point out her PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship, her MacDowell and Norman Mailer Colony fellowships, and her first novel, Oh! You Pretty Things, out now in hardcover from Dutton.