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BU lecturer wins National Book Award

Boston University lecturer Sigrid Nunez was awarded the 2018 National Book Award for fiction for her novel, “The Friend.” COURTESY OF ANDY JUELE

Sigrid Nunez, a lecturer in Boston University’s Creative Writing Program, was awarded the 2018 National Book Foundation’s National Book Award for fiction Wednesday for her latest novel, “The Friend.”

Nunez is the author of eight books and has taught at many universities, according to her website.

“The Friend,” as described by Nunez’s website, is about a woman whose best friend and mentor passes away and is left to deal with her grief while she cares for the dog he has left behind.

Several of Nunez’s colleagues and former students said they are happy for Nunez and that this level of recognition for her work should have come sooner.

“She has so many underappreciated novels that I think were just as worthy as ‘The Friend’ for an award like the National Book Award,” said Leone Brander, a master’s student in BU’s Creative Writing program. “So I’m glad this one took it home.”

Winning such an award was not only a career boost for Nunez, said fellow creative writing professor Leslie Epstein, but also a confidence boost.

“It validates what one fears to suspect, which is that one really does have the appreciation of many others,” Epstein said.

Colleagues and former students of Nunez said that they hope that winning the National Book Award will help shine a light on her other works.

Molly McCloskey, a student in BU’s graduate creative writing program, said she hopes winning such a prestigious award will increase awareness of Nunez as a writer in the minds of more readers.

Others, such as Weike Wang, a former creative writing cohort member, said that as a writer who has just started, she is encouraged to see an accomplished writer like Nunez receiving accolades well into her career.

Several of Nunez’s colleagues and former students had praise for “The Friend.”

“I think really it’s magnificent,” said Ha Jin, one of Nunez’s colleagues in the Creative Writing Program. “Really, it’s so smart, intelligent and also full of feelings.”

Brander said the book is very moving while still maintaining a witty sense of humor.

“It captures so beautifully, I think, the complications of grief and friendship,” Brander said. “It’s really touching. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry.”

Jillian Jackson, a former creative writing program cohort, said she found the book to be insightful in an unexpected way.

“You think, ‘Oh, this is going to be a book about a woman and the dog, and the dog’s gonna die or it’s really sad,’” Jackson said, “but there’s so much more complexity to it and strangeness and surprise.”

Both Nunez’s former students and colleagues said they are continually impressed by her skill as a writer.

“There’s always a kind of elegance and a light touch, a light movement in every sentence in her writing,” Jin said. “At the same time, it is very often dark and complicated.”

In particular, Brander said Nunez writes with a unique and original voice.

“The voice that she writes this book in is very memoiristic, and it gives a great sense of authenticity that these are real people going through these real struggles with real relationships,” Brander said.

Epstein described Nunez’s writing style as wry, intelligent, far-seeing, skeptical and humorous no matter what she writes about.

“It’s very witty, approachable, infectious,” Epstein said. “And it’s why so many people are her fans.”

Nunez’s colleagues and students said she is a dedicated, passionate teacher who is deeply invested in helping her students improve their writing.

“She was never harsh or unfair, but she definitely told you what she thought, and I appreciated that so much,” Jackson said.

Wang said Nunez’s teaching still helps her improve her work.

“I still remember clearly the many things that she said to me about my work and about the work of others,” said Wang. “And that says something about a teacher, that she’s so memorable.”

Epstein said he values having Nunez as a part of the creative writing program.

“She’s been the perfect colleague, great teacher, wonderful writer, and we just couldn’t be more thrilled having her in the program,” Epstein said. “We just hope we can reward her so that she can stay for many years more.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Epstein’s gender. An updated version of this article reflects this correction.

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