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Naomi Benaron

Winner of the Bellwether Prize, Author of Running the Rift

Naomi Benaron’s widely acclaimed first novel, Running the Rift, is the story of a young Tutsi long-distance runner from Rwanda who aspires to compete in the Olympics in the time leading up to the genocide of 1994. Barbara Kingsolver, who awarded this novel her Bellwether Prize for fiction addressing issues of social justice, praised Benaron for “truly fearless writing: ambitious, beautiful, unapologetically passionate.” The Washington Post wrote, “Audacious . . . Compelling . . . Benaron has to be applauded for her bravura.”

Benaron first worked with genocide survivors in her hometown of Tucson, acting as an advocate and helping them to adjust to life in the United States. She later attended a genocide conference and made several trips to Rwanda. “I felt very connected to the story,” she says, “as my mother lost most of her family in the Holocaust.” She is acutely aware of the pitfalls of appropriating another culture in her writing but has come to see her novel as a type of truth, or “imagined truth”: “The test for me became, Could this have happened? If I answered yes, then my truth stood.”

Benaron’s short story collection, Love Letters From a Fat Man, won the 2006 Sharat Chandra Prize for Fiction. Her short stories and poems have appeared in many literary journals, and she has an MFA in fiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is currently affiliated with the UCLA Extension Writers Program, teaching students how to “push the boundaries of comfort for the reader and the writer in order to understand what happens when writing is peeled back to the blood and bone of the event.” She is also a mentor with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, an online group in which women of Afghanistan can express themselves openly and in safety.

Benaron’s first career was as a scientist. She has degrees from MIT and Scripps Institution of Oceanography and worked as a seismologist and geophysicist for companies including Mobil Oil. She is also a marathon runner and an Ironman triathlete. “My best lines come to me when I am in motion,” she says. She has spoken at the First and Third International Genocide Conferences and at libraries, writers’ conferences, and book festivals across the country on her twenty-five-city author tour.

Speaking Topics

  • RUNNING THE RIFT: A Young Runner’s Struggle with Ethnic Violence in Rwanda
  • Writing Trauma: How to Write Effectively About the Unspeakable
  • A Type of Truth: The Rights and Responsibilities of Appropriating Another Culture
  • The Intersection of Sports and Fiction
  • The Intersection of Science and Fiction


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