With the deadline of the third South Carolina First Novel Prize now just two months away, it’s a great time to reflect on this literary experiment in our state and update the readers of Jasper about this initiative—the only one of its kind in the United States.
A decade ago Sara June Goldstein of the SC Arts Commission and I began to talk about how cool it would be to have a First Novel Prize in our state. We wanted to help launch emerging writers into the larger literary world and solidify South Carolina’s reputation as a state with unusually good opportunities for writers. Every time we ran into each other, one of us said, “We gotta find funding for that prize!”
We found our funding partner in 2007 when David Goble became South Carolina State Librarian and agreed to underwrite the prize. The first contest, which took place in 2008, drew more than 100 entries. The stacks of novels came to the SC Arts Commission office and were winnowed down by the MFA students at UNC Wilmington to a group of six finalists. We sent those manuscripts to novelist (and SC native) Percival Everett in Los Angeles, who selected a manuscript by Brian Ray, a Columbia writer who had just completed his MFA at the University of South Carolina. Brian’s book, Through the Pale Door, was released in 2009 and received many favorable reviews, including Atlanta magazine and Booklist. Brian did an extensive book tour, we sold out the hardback printing, and the book continues to be available as a paperback. It also received a gold medal as the best novel by an independent press in the Southeast.
The 2010 contest drew fewer entries (about 50), but the group of finalists was amazingly strong. Novelist Bret Lott chose Mercy Creek by Matt Matthews of Greenville. This coming-of-age book was a hit with readers and reviewers (Publishers Weekly called it “a first rate effort displaying skill, sensitivity and grace.”). The book has sold out two hardback editions and was released in paperback in January. Matt has been invited to the Virginia Festival of the Book, and has toured book stores and libraries across the state.
I tell you all this to let you know that winning the First Novel Prize is a big deal. There’s a $1,000 advance on royalties and Hub City Press works incredibly hard to get national notice and sales of the winning book. You get featured at the South Carolina Book Festival and in newspapers all over the state. And even if you don’t win, you might be published. This spring we are publishing one of the runner-up novels in the 2010 contest, The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone.
Unfortunately, because of budget cuts, the State Library was unable to continue to be our major funding partner this year. But the staff at the SC Arts Commission and at Hub City Press decided this project was too important to South Carolina and its writers to let go. While we continue to seek a stable funding partner, we are proceeding in 2012 with confidence, knowing that sales of the last two books have been strong. We know that one of those novels that will arrive at the SC Arts Commission office by the March 19 deadline not only will be a winner for the author, it will be a winner for Hub City Press, for the Arts Commission, and the entire state of South Carolina.
Details are here: http://www.southcarolinaarts.com/firstnovel/index.shtml
What have you got to lose?