Inara Verzemnieks, 2012 Award Winner
Inara Verzemnieks is a writer whose work focuses on people making homes in places where no one was meant to live, and whose preferred method is to inhabit the worlds about which she writes.
For 13 years Verzemnieks was a staff writer at The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, where she wrote features often focused on the city's overlooked people and places. In 2007, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. Verzemnieks left the paper in 2009 to focus on her writing career. She worked as a teaching fellow at the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program, from which she graduated with an MFA in May 2013. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award earlier in 2012.
“I am particularly interested in stories that cannot be accessed unless you are on the ground, fully immersed in the lives you are trying to understand — stories that demand that you stay and inhabit a place until you move past seeing it simply as spectacle,” Verzemnieks says.
In 2009 she began following the lives of several people who lived in a freeway rest area, some for more than a decade. Her writing from this ongoing project helped earn her the Margolis Award.
At the time she won the award, Verzemnieks was working on a book on the experiences of exiles at the end of World War II, in particular the stories of those sent to Siberia to live in special settlements -- how they managed to make lives in a place where no one was ever meant to live.