English Teacher Miriam Cohen Recognized by 2021 PEN America Literary Awards
Marquis Austin

The 2021 PEN America Literary Awards recently nominated Adults and Other Children, a short story collection by Prep School English teacher Miriam Cohen, for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection. With input from a jury of well-regarded figures in the field of literature, each year, PEN America, whose mission is to “celebrate creative expression,” honors talented authors with their prestigious awards. In particular, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize recognizes “an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future work.” For Ms. Cohen, receiving a nomination for this award, especially in recognition of a project nine years in the making, has been a “thrilling” experience. “Writing is such a solitary pursuit, so when you put a book into the world, it’s nice to know somebody is interested,” she says.  

Adults and Other Children includes fourteen short stories following four girls from childhood to adulthood. “The unifying theme is that they’re these children trying to understand an adult world, and then when they become adults, they remain very childish,” Ms. Cohen explains. “It’s about the impossibility of growing up and what it feels like to be a girl and woman in the world.” As she began writing Adults and Other Children, Ms. Cohen drew inspiration from the clever wordplay present in the women-centric tales by author Lorrie Moore. “Moore is very funny on a sentence level, and that microscopic focus on language is definitely an inspiration,” she says. Ms. Cohen also admires how Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro plays with time in her stories, saying, “She showed me how much a writer is allowed to do.”

For students interested in writing, Ms. Cohen offers the following piece of advice: “Focus on the work. I had a teacher in graduate school who said to me, ‘Do you like to build it? Do you like to build these things?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ I think a lot of the time people become really interested in the idea of being a writer. It seems glamorous, but it isn’t. The important thing should be the work and not the acclaim, which may or may not come.” She also suggests that students seek guidance from their favorite authors as they set out to develop their crafts. “A lot of writing comes from reading,” she says. “If you are interested in writing, the best place to start is by reading and doing as much of it as you can.”

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