When I was young, my family lived with my grandmother for a time in Washington, D.C. , in one of the old neighborhoods with houses of colonial brick and Italianate stucco. Grandmother’s house was a colonial, with perfect symmetry: a window on each side of the front door, three windows across the top, and a little pediment decorating the top of the entry. The house was in a neighborhood with a dizzying array of similarly designed houses, on blocks and blocks of numbered and alphabetically-named streets. I memorized the address – as every city child should do – and can recite it to this day.
Thomas Wolfe wrote, “a stone, a leaf, A door”
in his seminal novel Look Homeward, Angel.
I was inspired in part by Wolfe’s sense of place to write a novel about a Field. A Field so full of layers of history and mystery, plants and animals, people and hauntings, that it shimmers with life.
Over the many years of drafting, my talented friend AJ Coutu has been listening to my frustrations, my wine-infused rhapsodies, my struggles and triumphs on the page. We go on regular retreats together, where I tear out my hair and write, and she calmly quilts, draws, makes other kinds of art. Read more
Every writer has a dream award, the one that she knows would change life forever. Pen/Hemingway, an award for first fiction book, has always been one of those for me. It’s the kind of award that you can get only when you are starting out. Only first-time fiction writers are eligible. It’s a fairy tale award. A Cinderella story award. A happy ending for a first book, and a beginning for just one lucky writer a year–plus a powerful nod to finalists and honorable mentions.
Founded by Mary Hemingway in 1976 to honor her husband Ernest, and to recognize “distinguished first books of fiction,” the award is administered by the wonderful PEN organization for writers.
Some of my favorite writers have won this award, here are just a few:
1981 – Joan Silber for Household Words
1985 – Josephine Humphreys for Dreams of Sleep
1993 – Edward P. Jones for Lost in the City
The recognition that comes from this award starts careers, lets the world know you are writing something worth reading. Plus, how cool is it to have your name in the same paragraph with Hemingway’s?
Yesterday afternoon I got the confirmation that Accidental Birds of the Carolinas was selected for Honorable Mention for the Pen/Hemingway award.
I am still so excited that I’m not quite breathing right. Today I celebrate by calling friends, doing a little yoga, and taking the dog for a very long walk, a glass of wine with a friend. Tomorrow, it’s back to writing the next thing. But ahh, the sweetness will linger through my days. Thank you, Mr. Hemingway, and your lovely wife Mary.
To read about this year’s winner, finalists, and honorable mentions, see www.pen-ne.org