Brenda Peynado '06 Has Received The Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Short Story Award

June 25, 2015
A door with a metal scroll pattern, meant to represent Brenda Peynado ‘05's story "The Great Escape"

Brenda Peynado '06 has always been invested in the creative process. While at Wellesley, she often took five or six classes a semester because she said she wanted to experience the world through as many different disciplines as possible. Peynado’s capacity to think creatively was recently recognized by the Chicago Tribune, who awarded her the prestigious Nelson Algren Short Story Award for her submission, “The Great Escape.”

This award is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a creative writer; Peynado joins literary giants like Louise Erdrich, Stuart Dybek, and Kim Edwards. The Tribune has national recognition for being an authority on short fiction, and the contest by which the winner is chosen is very competitive. However, Peynado’s journey to creative writing and to this award was markedly different from many of the previous recipients.

Though Peynado has been a lifelong lover of books and fiction, her major at Wellesley and her work directly after college were in computer science. She hadn’t intended to focus on this field when she first entered Wellesley, but after taking Computer Science 101 as a way to fulfill her math requirement she found herself extremely drawn to the subject. The way her professors used intricate metaphors to explain programming and forced their students to overcome difficult challenges excited Peynado. She found that the work she did in computer science was very similar to the writing process and the skills she used in her humanities classes. In her words, “Philosophy, computer science, and creative writing were all asking the same questions with different tools.”

After graduating from Wellesley and landing a job as an IT auditor for IBM, it seemed that creative writing would become a hobby rather than a career. It was only when her mother was diagnosed with cancer (she is now in remission) that Peynado moved back home and had the chance to pursue a master’s of fine arts in fiction at Florida State University. She completed the degree in 2012 and, since then, she has published several short stories and won additional awards and grants for her writing. She was also recognized by the O. Henry Prize Stories for 2015 and received a Fulbright Scholarship.

Peynado is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati. Michael Griffith, a professor in her doctoral program, described her writing style to the Chicago Tribune as “Inventive, playful, often high-concept fiction, but without any whiff of the dryness or inaccessibility that 'experimental' work is sometimes accused of.” Her winning piece, “The Great Escape,” is about a young woman with an aunt who has Alzheimer’s disease. She said a lot of the inspiration for her stories comes from her extended family and their history, especially those who onced lived in the Dominican Republic.

Peynado will soon be releasing a short story collection, which includes her Algren award-winning piece “The Great Escape.” In the future, Peynado hopes to publish the novel she is currently writing about the Civil War.

When asked how Wellesley and its professors shaped her careers in both computer science and creative writing, Peynado responded that she “can’t think of a single professor I had at Wellesley who did not change the way I thought about the world.” She hasn’t yet written a story about Wellesley, but she said she’s sure she’ll find the words soon.

Story by Jennifer Lyon-Mackie '18.

Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the year Peynado graduated. She is an '06 alumna, not '05.