On the 10th anniversary of its creation, the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction (www.williemorrisaward.org) is pleased to announce Last Ride to Graceland (Gallery Books) by Kim Wright the recipient of its 2016 literary award. Wright was honored at a ceremony at the New York Yacht Club last night where she accepted the award’s $10,000 prize.
Novelist Reba White Williams and her husband Dave H. Williams were inspired to create the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction in 2008 after Reba learned that her two nieces in high school in Charleston, SC had never read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Reba, who was born in Mississippi and raised in North Carolina, remembered how her own introduction to classic Southern novels as a young student sparked a lifelong love and appreciation for Southern literature and its unique style, elaborate prose, evocative language, and sense of place. Envisaging the future of the Southern literary tradition, Reba decided that Southern writers and novels—especially contemporary works—deserved more attention. The result was the Willie Morris Award, named for celebrated Southern writer and long-time Williams family friend Willie Morris. A native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, Morris was a journalist, editor-in-chief of Harper’s magazine, and author of several novels set in the South, some of which remain required reading in public schools in his home state.
Since its inception in 2008, the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction has recognized annually a writer whose work is set in the South, exemplifies the tenets of Southern literature—quality of prose, originality, and authenticity of setting and characters—and reflects, in the words of Willie Morris, “hope for belonging, for belief in a people’s better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive.” Past recipients include Mindy Friddle, Stephen Wetta, Terry Roberts, and Katherine Clark, 2015’s honoree for her novel The Headmaster’s Darlings.
2016 award winner Kim Wright is the author of several previous novels and has written about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty years for magazines such as Wine Spectator, Self, Travel & Leisure, and Vogue. She is the two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing and lives in North Carolina.
On learning that Last Ride to Graceland had been selected as the 2016 winner, Wright said, “I am incredibly honored, especially when I consider the other writers who have been chosen in the past. I’ve wondered if the uniquely Southern voice is in danger of dying out, with so many people moving in and out of the region. What does ‘southern’ really mean today? Then I read certain books and remember—it’s that strong storytelling style, born out of an oral tradition, a tale which might be either funny or sad, raucous or subtle, but which always ends on a note of redemptive lift.”
Jill Hendrix, proprietor of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, proposed Last Ride to Graceland. “When I realized Kim’s book met all the criteria for the Willie Morris Award, I was happy to nominate it, and thrilled when I learned it had won,” said Hendrix.
Authors, agents, publishers and booksellers are invited to submit books for consideration. The winner is selected by a prestigious panel of academics and writers, including previous award winners. In addition to the $10,000 prize, recipients receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to attend a luncheon and reception in their honor, joined by nearly 100 members of the Southern literary community and New York City publishing community.
The Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction is now accepting submissions for the 2017 prize, to be awarded in 2018.