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The Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction

 

 

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The Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction

 

 

 

   
 

     One interesting new activity for us is our annual prize for the best novel set in the South, inspired by the books required by the South Carolina high school some young relatives attended. They were assigned novels set in Iraq, Afghanistan, China, but had never read To Kill a Mockingbird, an American classic.

     We gave them Harper Lee's masterpiece, but they didn't finish it. Their mother explained that they couldn't handle the "dialect." We were horrified. Were they also skipping Mark Twain because they can't read "dialect"? What else were they missing? And was it right that our schools were not assigning our best novels, in order to focus on those set in other countries? Were they also missing great twenty-first century books set in the South?

     We often read very good books set in the South. Why shouldn't we celebrate some of the new books with a prize? We would fund it, and we established a set of criteria, assembled a panel of judges, and defined the prize: $2,500, a trip to New York, and the author would be the featured lecturer at The Center for Fiction (the old Mercantile Library), the presenter of the award. We also defined the South: the original eleven states of the Confederacy-Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

     We named the prize after a famous writer, a University of Texas fraternity brother of Dave's, Willie Morris, who got his start in journalism as editor The Daily Texan, the school's newspaper. Willie went on to become the youngest-ever editor of Harper's, and he wrote a series of non-fiction books. Our prize was for fiction, but we felt comfortable using Willie's name because his books read like fiction-in the best sense of those words!

     The spirit of the winning novel should reflect these words of Willie's, "hope for belonging, for belief in a people's better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive." It is chosen for the quality of its prose, originality, and authenticity of setting and characters.

     We advertise for submissions in Publisher's Weekly and Oxford American, with a deadline of March 31 for the previous year. The winner is announced in these same publications, and recent awards went to:

2010: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

2009: Secret Keepers by Mindy Friddle

2008: The City of Refuge by Tom Piazza

2007: The King of Colored Town by Darryl Wimberley

     Publishers, authors and booksellers wishing to propose a candidate book are invited to send one copy to Reba White Williams, 2 Dearfield Drive, Suite 2D, Greenwich, CT 06831

 
   


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