Tulane novelist Zachary Lazar wins John Updike Award

March 17, 2015

Arthur Nead
Phone: 504-247-1443


Tulane novelist Zachary Lazar is the winner of the John Updike Award. (Photo: Paula Burch-Celentano)

Tulane associate professor of English and novelist Zachary Lazar is the winner of the John Updike Award, conferred by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The award, presented every two years, was inaugurated in 2011 by the widow of writer John Updike. It is given “to a writer in mid-career whose work has demonstrated consistent excellence.”

Word of the honor, which includes a prize of $20,000, was delivered in a letter from playwright John Guare, author of Six Degrees of Separation.

“It just came to me out of the blue,” says Lazar. “I am only the third person to receive it.”

Lazar, who has been on the English Department’s Creative Writing faculty since 2011, completed his first novel, Aaron Approximately, in 1998. After a searching reassessment of style and approach, he published a second novel, Sway. Then came Evening’s Empire: The Story of My Father’s Murder, and most recently I Pity the Poor Immigrant, which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014.

Lazar’s subject is violence and why it happens. “All three books use a crime story motif to talk about bigger questions, about history and the culture we live in,” he says. “The most important connection they have is probably the blending of fiction and non-fiction.”

Lazar’s next novel, now in progress, is set in New Orleans. “It comes out of a non-fiction project that I did with a photographer, Deborah Luster. We spent a week at Angola Prison documenting a passion play.

“I wrote a nonfiction piece about that, and that’s the starting point of my next novel, which tells the story of an inmate who is serving life without parole, as are most of the people in Angola. The story is about whether or not he is innocent — but I have to write it first, slowly but surely.”

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