THIS YEAR’S JUDGE
(for prize to be awarded in January 2023)
Ben Fountain was born in Chapel Hill and grew up in eastern North Carolina. His most recent book is Beautiful Country Burn Again, a narrative, with history, of the 2016 presidential election. He is also the author of the novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was adapted for film by three-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, and the short story collection Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. His work has received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and a Whiting Writer’s Award, and has been a finalist for the National Book Award. His novel The Jacmel Wreck will appear in 2023.
Ron Rash is the author of the PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestselling novel Serena, in addition to the critically acclaimed novels The Risen, Above the Waterfall, The Cove, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; four collections of poems; and six collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, Nothing Gold Can Stay, a New York Times bestseller, Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award, and most recently In the Valley, a collection of nine stories and a novella based on Serena. Twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize and winner of the 2019 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature and 2020 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature, he is the Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University and lives in Clemson, SC.
Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Monique Truong came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. The recipient of many literary awards, she is also an essayist, a librettist, and, thankfully, no longer an intellectual property attorney.
Her three novels are the national bestseller The Book of Salt (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), the award-winning Bitter in the Mouth (Random House, 2010), set in Boiling Springs, N.C., her family’s first hometown in the U.S., and The Sweetest Fruits (Viking Books, 2019).
The Book of Salt was honored as a New York Times Notable Fiction Book, and included among the Chicago Tribune’s Favorite Fiction Books, the Village Voice’s 25 Favorite Books, and the Miami Herald’s Top 10 Books, among other citations.
Bitter in the Mouth received the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rosenthal Family Foundation Award and was named in 2010 among the 25 Best Fiction Books by Barnes & Noble, the 10 Best Fiction Books by Hudson Booksellers, and as the adult fiction Honor Book by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.
Truong’s most recent novel, The Sweetest Fruits, was named a best fiction of the year by Publishers Weekly, Mental Floss, and Popmatters.
Truong serves on the Board of Directors of the Authors Guild, the Creative Advisory Council for Hedgebrook, the Bogliasco Fellowship Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Committee of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. For PEN America, she was the Chair of the Literary Awards Committee (2014-2017) and a member of the Advisory Council.
Author website: monique-truong.com
Charles Frazier grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Cold Mountain(1997), his highly acclaimed first novel, was an international bestseller, won the National Book Award in 1997, and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by Anthony Minghella in 2003. Charles’s second novel, Thirteen Moons(2006), was a New York Times bestseller and named a best book of the year by the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His third novel, Nightwoods(2011), also a New York Times bestseller, is a critically acclaimed literary thriller set in a fictional Western North Carolina town in the early 1960s. Charles’s latest novel, Varina, an instant New York Times bestseller released in April of 2018, is a fictional reimagining of the life of Varina Howell Davis before, during, and after the American Civil War. Charles received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina, an M.A. from Appalachian State University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of South Carolina. He taught English at the University of Colorado Boulder and at North Carolina State University.
Tayari Jones – 2019
New York Times best-selling author Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, most recently An American Marriage. Published in 2018, An American Marriage is an Oprah’s Book Club Selection and also appeared on Barack Obama’s summer reading list as well as his year-end roundup. The novel was awarded the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize), Aspen Words Prize and an NAACP Image Award. It has been published in two dozen countries.
Jones, a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship, and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Her third novel, Silver Sparrow, was added to the NEA Big Read Library of classics in 2016.
Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University.
Elizabeth Cox – 2018
Elizabeth Cox is the author of poetry and short story collections, in addition to four novels: The Ragged Way People Fall out of Love, Night Talk (winner of the Lillian Smith Award and a finalist for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), Familiar Ground, and The Slow Moon. She has been recognized with the Robert Penn Warren Award and the North Carolina Fiction Award, and she has been inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Cox has taught creative writing at Duke University, University of Michigan, University of Massachusetts–Lowell, Tufts University, Boston University, MIT, Bennington College, and most recently at Wofford College, where she shared the John Cobb Chair with her husband, C. Michael Curtis, fiction editor for the Atlantic.
2017 – Tom Franklin
Tom Franklin is the New York Times bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award. His previous works include Poachers, Hell at the Breech, and Smonk. With his wife Fennelly, Franklin co-wrote the novel The Tilted World. The couple has been called “the king and queen of contemporary Southern literature.” Franklin’s other honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Edgar Award, the Willie Morris Prize for Southern Fiction, and the Alabama Award for Fiction. He teaches in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.
2016 – Lee Smith
Lee Smith has published four collections of short stories, the novella Blue Marlin, and thirteen novels including the bestsellers Fair and Tender Ladies and The Last Girls, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. In 2016 she published Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, a memoir. She taught for nineteen years at North Carolina State University. Smith is a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the North Carolina Award for Literature. Other honors include the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction (the North Carolina Literary & Historical Association) and the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction (Fellowship of Southern Writers).
2015 – Randall Kenan
Randall Kenan is the author of a novel, A Visitation of Spirits, and a collection of stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Other works include The Fire This Time, a work of nonfiction. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Mary Francis Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters, the Whiting Writer’s Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Prix de Rome. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence, Columbia University, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Memphis. Randall Kenan passed away in 2020, you can read his New York Times obituary below.
2014 – Jill McCorkle
Jill McCorkle’s first two novels, July 7th and The Cheer Leader, were released simultaneously when she was just out of college, and the New York Times called her “a born novelist.” Since then, she has published five other novels including her most recent, Hieroglyphics, and four collections of short stories. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories several times, as well as The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Five of her books have been New York Times Notable books, and her novel, Life After Life, was a New York Times bestseller. She has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Garden and Gun, The Atlantic, and other publications. She was a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard, where she also chaired the department of creative writing. She is currently a faculty member of the Bennington College Writing Seminars and is affiliated with the MFA program at North Carolina State University.