Self-Published Books Wins PEN Award

The novel A Naked Singularity written, and self-published, by a Manhattan public defender in 2008 has just won the $25,000 W. Bingham Prize given by PEN. The book had been rejected by mainstream publishers before being self-published, and then four years later republished by the academic press of the University of Chicago.

Sergio De La Pava

Sergio De La Pava

So, perhaps, there is hope for all of us who self-publish.

The plot of A Naked Singularity is this: It tells the story of Casi, a child of Colombian immigrants who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan as a public defender–one who, tellingly has never lost a trial. Never. In the book, we watch what happens when his sense of justice and even his sense of self begin to crack–and how his world then slowly devolves. It’s a huge, ambitious novel clearly in the vein of DeLillo, Foster Wallace, Pynchon, and even Melville, and it’s told in a distinct, frequently hilarious voice, with a striking human empathy at its center. Its panoramic reach takes readers through crime and courts, immigrant families and urban blight, media savagery and media satire, scatology and boxing, and even a breathless heist worthy of any crime novel. If Infinite Jest stuck a pin in the map of mid-90s culture and drew our trajectory from there, A Naked Singularity does the same for the feeling of surfeit, brokenness, and exhaustion that permeates our civic and cultural life today. In the opening sentence of William Gaddis’s A Frolic of His Own, a character sneers, “Justice? You get justice in the next world. In this world, you get the law.”

What appears to have happened to the book is that the promotions director at the University of Chicago Press noticed positive reviews on the blogosphere and he brought the book to the attention of the editors at Chicago University of Press. They re-published the book, virtually unchanged, in 2012.

The book is 700 pages long and this month it will be published in London by MacLehose Press. French and Spanish translations are in the works, and, of course, there is an option for the film rights.

An academic press rarely publishes such an non-academic work. However, the University of Chicago Press did publish in 1976 a book by a former faculty member, Norman Maclean, entitled, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories.

Sergio De La Pava’s second book, a novel, entitled Personae is about a skilled detective murder investigation. It will be published by the University of Chicago Press. That book, too, was previously published on-line by the author.


Leave a comment
  • Thanks for pointing out this award out, John. Yes, maybe there’s hope yet for we self-published writers who are putting out something other than treacly romance novels. Such as treacly romance memoirs ;o)

  • Wow. And it’s 700 pages long? Probably the biggest reason it was rejected–none of the big houses wants to publish anything over 350, especially if it’s a “first novel.” Kudos to De La Pava–and shame on big publishers who are so frightened to try anything outside the box that they no longer develop the talent they once nurtured.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2022. Peace Corps Worldwide.