Debut Novelist John Kenney Wins Thurber Prize for American Humor

By Kelsey Manning Comment

johnkenneyGuest post written by Kelsey Manning (@kelseyMmanning)

Before Thurber Prize winner John Kenney settled in to read a selection from his novel Truth in Advertising, he had a few words for his fellow finalist:

“Dear David Letterman, Please let me win this award. Just this one. We need the money.”

It was one of many hilarious moments during last night’s presentation of the 2013 Thurber Prize for American Humor. David Letterman attended alongside co-writer Bruce McCall on behalf of their book This Land Was Made for You and Me (But Mostly Me). In the absence of third finalist Liza Donnelly (Women on Men), her husband Michael Maslin spoke about how much James Thurber means to them, especially as New Yorker cartoonists themselves. The pair’s first date was to see a James Thurber drawing at the Armory on the East Side.

In the true spirit of the night, Truth in Advertising author John Kenney joked, “My first flight wasn’t to the Thurber House or my first date, but I was conceived there.” It was easy to see why the Thurber Prize judges—Meg Wolitzer, John Searles, and Henry Alford—were so taken by the wit in Kenney’s debut.

Drawing on Kenney’s 17 years as a copywriter, Truth in Advertising (Touchstone Books) tells the story of New York ad man Finbar Dolan as he approaches his 40th birthday and questions the absurdity of corporate life.

“Readers need not ever have walked into an ad agency or watched a single episode of Mad Men to appreciate the wit, accuracy and punch of this smart novel,” Wolitzer said. “Satire can be hard to maintain over the course of a novel, but Kenney keeps the reader engaged and surprised.”

Although Truth in Advertising is his first novel, Kenney is a seasoned humorist. He has been a contributor to The New Yorker since 1999, and his writing has appeared in the humorous New Yorker collection, Disquiet Please!.

“No one makes me laugh like John Kenney,” comedian Andy Borowitz said. “So I expected Truth in Advertising to be very funny, and it is. But I was unprepared for hos deeply felt and richly observed it would be. This is a beautiful novel and a dazzling debut.” Read an excerpt of this year’s Thurber Prize for American Humor winner here.

The Thurber Prize is sponsored by the Thurber House, a nonprofit literary organization based in Columbus, Ohio, at Thurber’s boyhood home. Kenney joins the winning ranks of many distinguished humorists, including David Sedaris, Jon Stewart, Colvin Trillin, and Steve Hely.