Ohio’s unofficial adoptee laureate is the recipient of the 2010 Ohio State Library’s Ohioana Award in fiction for Await Your Reply: A Novel. Last year the book was named to Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 Best Books of 2009. In March, the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association cited it on its “best” list along with work by Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison.
Dan’s 2001 collection of short stories, Among the Missing described as “a gripping account of colliding fates, the shifty nature of identity in today’s wired world and the limits of family” was a National Book Award finalist. It was also named one of the year’s best books by the American Library Association, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and Entertainment Weekly and made the New York Times Notable Book List.
You Remind Me of Me (2004), Dan’s first novel, is an adoption-related (and so much more) examination of identity, fate, and circumstance. It was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle.
Dan, was born, adopted and reared in Sidney, Nebraska and lives in Cleveland Heights Ohio, He is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College. His work is informed by adoption, fluidity of identity, and personal reinvention.
Novelist Lucinda Rosenfeld, in the New York Times Book Review writes of Dan’s view of adoption and identity in Await your Reply:
But the author doesn’t limit his assault on the idea of “I” to the prestidigitations of the wireless world. In an interview promoting his previous book, Chaon discussed his childhood feelings about his own adoption: “Generally, I was very comfortable with the idea, though I did wonder, sometimes. . . . I was sometimes aware of the sense that there was another life out there that I might have led, or even multiple lives.” The assessment is fairly neutral. Yet in “Await Your Reply” and in Chaon’s earlier novel — in which a suicidal mother neglects her younger son, having never recovered from giving up her older one while she was still a teenager — Chaon seems to be advancing the controversial position that adoption is a tragedy for all involved: the mother who never stops grieving; her remaining children, who bear the brunt of that grief; the adopted child who can never really know him or herself; the adopting parents who are invariably betrayed. Chaon is a dark, provocative writer, and “Await Your Reply” is a dark, provocative book; in bringing its three strands together, Chaon has fashioned a braid out of barbed wire.
Other recipients of this year’s Ohioana awards include former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove (Akron) , Ohio-based poets Michael Rosen (Columbus) and Joel Lipman (Toledo), both of whom I knew in my pre–Bastardette regional poet days, and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, now living in Pomeroy, Ohio where he operates Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp. In June, bastard singer/songwriter Mary Gautier ( her latest CD is the autobiographical The Foundling) held a songwriting class and played a concert there.