Karsten Moran / The New York Times

Susan Choi accepts the award for “Trust Exercise,” at the 2019 National Book Awards in New York.

November 26, 2019

Susan Choi ’95 Wins National Book Award for Her Novel “Trust Exercise”

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Susan Choi M.F.A. ’95, a graduate of Cornell’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, was recently awarded the National Book Award for her fiction novel Trust Exercise. 

This prestigious award recognizes work in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, young people’s literature, poetry and translated literature once every year.

The process begins with applications, which are collected from March to May each year, according to the National Book Foundation website. Judges read all the submissions and select five finalists in October. The awards ceremony to announce the winners is held later in the year, and the judges meet once again on the day of the ceremony to select the winners.

“Receiving this award has been joyous for me. To receive such a recognition, from such a remarkable group of my peers in this business, feels amazing,” Choi wrote in a statement to The Sun.

Choi’s novel tells the stories of two students in a performing arts school who fall in love, while also working through familial and economic struggles, according to Choi’s website.

The process of writing Trust Exercise was somewhat roundabout for Choi, with it being a “side project” for her while working on another project. Since Trust Exercise wasn’t her main project, it allowed Choi to have more fun and be more free about her work.

When Choi originally applied to Cornell’s MFA Program, she was unsure of what her professional path would be. Deciding between a career in academia or in creative writing, Choi was particularly interested in attending Cornell because it allowed her to pursue both.

“Cornell offered a degree option I hadn’t seen anywhere else, that allowed you to pursue a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing at the same time. This was the perfect option for someone like me who couldn’t make that professional decision,” Choi told The Sun.

Choi also spoke about how attending the MFA Program affected her as a writer, especially because it allowed her to work closely with students and faculty who she admired.

“My time at Cornell was very formative.  I met remarkable writers whose work I continue to admire today, worked with incredibly generous teachers like Lamar Herrin and Stephanie Vaughn, and started the process of finding my way toward my first novel, The Foreign Student,” Choi said.

Professor Robert Morgan, English, spoke to The Sun about Choi’s work and the M.F.A. program.

“We have the smallest M.F.A. program in the country. We have only four fiction writers and four poets each year, so the ratio between faculty and students is very good, as you might imagine,” Morgan said.

Morgan also credited the success of the program to the quality of teaching and the communication between students and teachers.

“All our faculty is in residence. Everybody lives here, and there’s a lot of communication between the students and the faculty … If I had to pick one thing that has really distinguished this program, I would say it’s the quality of the teaching of my colleagues,” Morgan said.

“[Choi] has probably written some of the best fiction ever published in this country about the immigrant experience,” Morgan continued.