Dan Alter (left) and M. Evan Wolkenstein are this year's Cowan Writer's Prize recipients.
Dan Alter (left) and M. Evan Wolkenstein are this year's Cowan Writer's Prize recipients.

M. Evan Wolkenstein and Dan Alter to receive Cowan Writer’s Prizes today

“Turtle Boy” novelist M. Evan Wolkenstein and poet Dan Alter are the recipients of 2022 Anne and Robert Cowan Writer’s Prizes, which honor emerging Jewish writers who live in the Bay Area and engage with Jewish themes in their work. The prizes will be awarded today at 5:30 p.m. in a ceremony at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, where Wolkenstein teaches comparative religion and Bible. Register here to attend.

“Turtle Boy” tells the story of a seventh grader named Will Levine who is bullied at school because of his unusually formed chin. He has a condition called micrognathia, which Wolkenstein also had.

In an interview at the time of the book’s publication in 2020, Wolkenstein told J. “Turtle Boy” grew out of an autobiographical comic strip he created. “I think I wrote this book to work through the story that I had been carrying around since I was an adolescent,” he said. “It’s the story of going from hating my body, my face, the way I looked, and believing that it was going to doom me to unhappiness — to the place where I am today. I had the surgery [that the character Will had] and it resolved certain things, but it did not fix how I felt inside.”

A Marin County resident, Wolkenstein is the first young adult novelist to be recognized with a Cowan Writer’s Prize. He is currently working on a sequel to “Turtle Boy.”

the cover of "My Little Book of Exiles" by Dan AlterDan Alter, who lives in Berkeley, is being recognized for his debut book of poetry, “My Little Book of Exiles,” which came out earlier this year. In a review, J. books columnist and Jewish Community Library director Howard Freedman wrote, “It’s a pronouncedly personal collection that is particularly attuned to feelings of connection and displacement across both place and time. Alter mines experiences from throughout his life, and the longevity of this arc strengthens the book.”

The Cowan Writer’s Prizes have been awarded sporadically by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund since 2006. Each winner receives a $5,000 grant. Previous winners include Chanan Tigay, author of “The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible” and Marissa Moss, author of “Last Things: A Graphic Memoir of Loss and Love.”