Judges Walter Kirn, Nelly Rosario and A.J. Verdelle sifted through 350 novels and story collections before choosing the five finalists for this year's PEN/Faulkner Award -- and two of the finalists were published by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press. 

Laird Hunt's "Kind One" and T. Geronimo Johnson's "Hold it 'til it Hurts" are up against "Threats," by Amelia Gray; "Watergate," by Thomas Mallon, and "Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club," by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

 In a review for the Star Tribune, book critic Kathryn Lang called Hunt's book "a mesmerizing novel of sin and expiation," comparing Hunt's language to that of novelist Charles Frazier, "Biblically-tinged and spare."

Johnson's novel is a narrative of post-Katrina New Orleans, told by a black veteran of the Gulf War. "Johnson is bringing the news here, rendering beautifully the pleasures (silverware in drawers instead of bins) and pitfalls (guilty liberals at the bar) facing soldiers at home," wrote novelist Matt Burgess in his review for the Star Tribune.

The PEN/Faulkner Award is America's largest peer-juried prize for fiction. The winner will receive $15,000 and the four finalists will each receive $5,000. The winner will be announced on March 19, and all five authors will be honored at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespare Library in May.

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Bagpipes and poetry

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Robert Hedin is this year's Kay Sexton Award winner.