Carnegie Mellon University

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

April 10, 2018

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum To Give Adamson Student Writing Awards Keynote Address

By Daniel Hirsch

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s fiction covers an impressive array of territory. From the elliptical dreamscapes of her lyrical novel "Madeleine Is Sleeping" to the fraught terrain of a father observing his teenage daughter's Instagram feed in her recent “New Yorker” story "Likes," Shun-lien Bynum's work brims with surprising perspectives and material.

She will bring this range of ideas to Carnegie Mellon University as the Department of English’s 49th annual Adamson Student Writing Awards  keynote speaker on May 3 at 7 p.m. in Breed Hall (Margaret Morrision 103).

"She's just a great storyteller," said Sharon Dilworth, associate professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "We don't invite anyone we the faculty don't really admire and the students tend to catch on to that and pay attention to what our keynote speaker has to say."

As part of the awards ceremony, Shun-lien Bynum, who was a finalist for both the National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award and made the “New Yorker's” "20 under 40" list in 2010, will offer students some insights into life as a professional writer.

"It tends to be very influential for students to interact with a writer like this. It deepens their sense of the work," said Assistant Professor of English Kevin González, "It shows them professional writers are real and inspires them to keep writing."

Shun-lien Bynum is the author of two novels, "Madeleine Is Sleeping" and "Ms. Hempel Chronicles," and has had her short fiction appear in several publications including the journal “Tin House” and the "Best American Short Fiction" anthology.

Past Adamson Award guest speakers have included Pulitzer Prize winners in poetry like Tracy K. Smith and Peter Balakian as well as influential novelists Tobias Woolf and Jamaica Kinkaid.

"I like her because she's funny," Dilworth said of Shun-lien Bynum. "We don't get enough funny women." 

The awards themselves honor excellence in student creative writing in poetry, fiction, screenwriting, playwriting and non-fiction. Many past student winners have gone on to have impressive writing careers.

According to González, who himself won an Adamson Student Writing Award for poetry when he was a CMU student and was recently a recipient of NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, the awards process teaches students to prepare for various submission opportunities—an essential task of any working writer.

"If you want to be a professional writer, and have your work out in the world, submitting your work is part of it," González said. "Although selecting winners is very subjective, good work rises to the top and is rewarded."

The Adamson Awards with special guest Sarah Shun-lien Bynum are free and open to the public on Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 7p.m. in Breed Hall, Margaret Morrison 103.