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Four New England writers among finalists for PEN awards

PEN America released its list of finalists for its 2017 literary awards on Wednesday, and four New England writers are in the running.

Matthew Desmond made the final cut for the $10,000 nonfiction award for his book “Evicted.” The Harvard sociology professor and 2015 MacArthur fellow explores how eviction has become a cause of poverty, immersing himself in the lives of residents in poor Milwaukee neighborhoods. His competitors include Patrick Phillips (“Blood at the Root’’), Sam Quinones (“Dreamland’’), Laura Secor (“Children of Paradise’’), and Anjan Sundaram (“Bad News’’).

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Luke Dittrich is competing for the $10,000 science-writing prize for “Patient H.M.,” which details one of the most highly studied neurological cases in medical history in which Dittrich’s grandfather, a Hartford neurosurgeon, removed part of a patient’s brain in an attempt to stop seizures, leaving the man unable to form new memories. Dittrich, a Massachusetts native, will compete with Dan Flores (“Coyote America’’), Julian Guthrie (“How to Make a Spaceship’’), Hope Jahren (“Lab Girl’’), and Emily Voigt (“The Dragon Behind the Glass’’).

Jane Kamensky, a Harvard history professor, is one of the final four for the $5,000 top spot in biography for “A Revolution in Color.” The book traces the life of Colonial painter John Singleton Copley, known for his portraits of the most prominent figures of the Revolutionary War — despite that his sympathies remained with the British. Kamensky goes up against Ruth Franklin (“Shirley Jackson’’), Joe Jackson (“Black Elk’’), Arthur Lubow (“Diane Arbus’’), and Michael Tisserand (“Krazy’’).

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Clare Beams, a Connecticut native who taught high school English for six years in Falmouth, is up for the $25,000 award for this year’s best fiction debut. Her collection of short stories, “We Show What We Have Learned,” earned her the nod. The book draws from years of history to tell surreal tales covering everything from school assemblies to World War II. The other authors up for the honor are Rion Amilcar Scott (“Insurrections’’), Brit Bennett (“The Mothers’’), Yaa Gyasi (“Homegoing’’), and Cote Smith (“Hurt People’’).

Winners will be announced Feb. 22, with the exception of the first-fiction award, which will be revealed March 27.

Alex Frandsen can be reached at alexander.frandsen@globe.com.
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