The Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction announced its shortlist today.  The annual award is given to 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 its namesake, 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.”

The award comes with a $10,000 cash prize and an all-expense paid trip for the winner to New York City for the reception and ceremony, which will be held on Monday, October 22nd, 2018. The award is sponsored by Reba and Dave Williams.

This year’s finalists are:

Joshilyn Jackson, The Almost Sisters (William Morrow)

 Bren McClain, One Good Mama Bone (The University of South Carolina Press)

J.C. Sasser, Gradle Bird (Koehler Books)

Stephanie Powell Watts, No One Is Coming to Save Us (Ecco)

 “Originality and creativity are the hallmarks of this year’s shortlist for the Willie Morris Award,” says judge Katherine Clark. “The main characters in these novels include a ghost, a cow, a skeleton, and a house. The finalists are indicative of the wide range of talent producing contemporary Southern fiction. Kudos to the Willie Morris Award for celebrating these authors and their works, and bringing them to the attention of a wider readership.”

 This year’s reception and award ceremony will include a special panel on the life and writings of Pat Conroy and a major announcement about an expansion of the Willie Morris Award.


Shortlisted books: author biographies and synopses:

 Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels and a novella. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, won SIBA’s novel of the year, three times been a #1 Book Sense Pick, twice won Georgia Author of the Year, and three times been shortlisted for the Townsend prize. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. Learn more:

THE ALMOST SISTERS: With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Bren McClain was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina. She is a two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project and the recipient of the 2005 Fiction Fellowship by the South Carolina Arts Commission. McClain won the 2016 William Faulkner Williams Wisdom Novel-in-Progress for Took and was a finalist in the 2012 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for Novel-in-Progress for One Good Mama Bone. Learn more:

ONE GOOD MAMA BONE: Set in early 1950s rural South Carolina, One Good Mama Bone chronicles Sarah Creamer’s quest to find her “mama bone,” after she is left to care for a boy who is not her own but instead is the product of an affair between her husband and her best friend and neighbor, a woman she calls “Sister.” When her husband drinks himself to death, Sarah, a dirt-poor homemaker with no family to rely on and the note on the farm long past due, must find a way for her and young Emerson Bridge to survive. But the more daunting obstacle is Sarah’s fear that her mother’s words, seared in her memory since she first heard them at the age of six, were a prophesy, “You ain’t got you one good mama bone in you, girl.”

J.C. Sasser was born and raised in Metter, Georgia. She is the award-winning author of Gradle Bird and a contributor to Town Magazine and the forthcoming anthology, Gather at the River: Twenty-five Authors on Fishing edited by David Joy and Eric Rickstad. She lives on Edisto Island, SC with her family. Learn more:

 GRADLE BIRD: Sixteen-year-old Gradle Bird has lived her entire life with her Grandpa, Leonard, at a seedy motel and truck stop off Georgia’s I-16. But when Leonard moves her to a crumbling old house rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Ms. Annalee Spivey, Gradle is plunged into a lush, magical world much stranger and more dangerous than from the one she came.

Stephanie Powell Watts was born in the foothills of North Carolina. Her debut novel, No One Is Coming to Save Us, won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. With a PhD from the University of Missouri and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she lives with her husband and son in Pennsylvania where she is an associate professor at Lehigh University. Learn more:

NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US: A revelatory debut from an insightful voice; with echoes of The Great Gatsby it is an arresting and powerful novel about an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream. In evocative prose, Stephanie Powell Watts has crafted a full and stunning portrait that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family.

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