William S. Penn is an urban mixed-blood Nez Perce. Born and raised in the West, he has lived in many different regions of the United States, as well as in England. He received his B.A. from U.C. Davis and his Doctorate from Syracuse University in Creative Writing, Modern British Literature, and The Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Epic. He has previously taught at the State University of New York at Oswego and at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx. Recently awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award by Michigan State University, he currently teaches courses in the oral tradition, comedy and cultural survival, the literatures of the Americas, and creative writing.
Penn uses his writing to explore and reconcile his mixed ethnic heritage, writing fiction, essays and reviews. His works have been included in Antaeus, Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Stand, and Southern Humanities Review, and he has been the Guest Editor for Callaloo.
He lives in East Lansing with his wife, Jennifer. They have two children, Rachel Antonia and William Anthony. He is currently working on a book of essays entitled "Storytelling in the Digital Age," due out in late 2013.
"I write to amuse and entertain, but I write from a center I take seriously, a center given to me by my grandfather, encouraged by my sisters, and nurtured by my wife and by my daughter and son with whom I tell stories. Indeed, All My Sins Are Relatives is dedicated 'For Grandfather, who knows / And Rachel and Willy, so they may.' Thus, I would say that much of my work is so they—the children, not just my own—may know my attempt to bridge the gap between the urban mixblood and Euramerican worlds to which I belong."
Penn was awarded the Stephen Crane Prize for Fiction at Syracuse University in 1977 and 1979. He received a Yaddo Fellowship to the Yaddo Writer's Colony to work on his novel, The Absence of Angels. He also received a supporting grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Inc. in 1985, an All University Research Initiation Grant from Michigan State University, a New York Foundation for the Arts Prize in 1988, and a Michigan Council on the Arts Grant in 1990 to help in completing this book.
In 1991, Penn was a Resident Writer at the Banff Center for the Arts. He received the North American Indian Prose Award from the University of Nebraska Press in 1994 for All My Sins Are Relatives and an All University Research Completion Grant from Michigan State University to complete the work. In 1996, All My Sins Are Relatives received the Critic's Choice Award for the Most Acclaimed Books of 1995-96.
Penn was named Native American Writer of the Year in Non-fiction by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers in 1997. In 1998, he was named Native American Editor of the Year by the same organization. His book The Telling of the World: Native American Stories and Art was named to the list of Best University Press Books of 2000, and in 2001 he received the American Book Award for Literary Merit for Killing Time With Strangers.
Penn received in 2003 the Distinguished Faculty Award from Michigan State University in 2003, and has been a finalist for the Iowa Prize for Short Fiction. He was named a 2002 Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year in Creative Prose: Fiction for Feathering Custer. His work has been published internationally and translated into several languages.