Friday, January 16, 2015

The 2014 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction: Winner and Honorees

The winner of the 2014 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize for American Historical Fiction is Kimberly Elkins' What Is Visible (Twelve, 2014).

From the judges' remarks in the press release:

"This novel lyrically revives a significant and intriguing figure in the history of disability. Laura Bridgman (d. 1889) was a celebrity in her lifetime. Stripped of sight, hearing, taste and smell by scarlet fever in her childhood, Bridgman served as a poster child for the Perkins School for the Blind and various intellectual causes such as phrenology and anti-Calvinism.

"What sets this novel apart is the author’s ability to imagine Laura Bridgman’s world and to give her a powerful narrative voice. With skill and compassion, Elkins portrays Bridgman as a complicated character whose strengths and flaws grow more complex as the story progresses. Historical details enrich the story, and the author deftly exposes the care and treatment of the disabled during the 1800s. This is American historical fiction at its best."

The 2014 Honorable Mention went to Catherine Bell's Rush of Shadows (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2014), a "sparsely but beautifully written novel" that focuses on farmers of Northern California’s Sacramento Valley and their encounters with the native Digger Indians in the 1850s.

From the judges' comments: "This is truly fresh material. The Trail of Tears is well-known, but Indian removals in California are relatively obscure. The characters are well-drawn and the descriptions vivid. A beautiful book."

Finally, Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account (Pantheon, 2014) was named as the Director's Mention for 2014.

"While The Moor's Account does not fully meet the requirements for the prize," the judges note, it is praised as an "extraordinary, pitch-perfect work of historical fiction about the Narváez expedition in Florida."

For more on the prize and the full announcement of this year's honorees, see the Langum Charitable Trust. To submit a novel for consideration, view the directions available at the site; the Trust has also issued guidelines used by their readers and selection committee, which authors should find useful as well. The prize is awarded annually to the "best book in American historical fiction that is both excellent fiction and excellent history."

Past years' winners include Gary Schanbacher's Crossing Purgatory, Ron Rash's The Cove, Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic, Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, Edward Rutherfurd's New York, and Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter.

14 comments:

  1. Didn't Twain visit Bridgman? Or am I thinking of Dickens?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dickens did visit Perkins to meet Laura Bridgman. I remember reading this article from Slate about her last year, and it talks about how his visit impacted her life, and vice versa.

      One of my favorite children's books growing up was Edith Fisher Hunter's Child of the Silent Night, which is about Laura. I believe it's nonfiction.

      Delete
  2. Ooh, looks like I need to check in on that Moor's Account.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's good - I'm reading it at the moment, though need to find a print copy before continuing since I find it hard to read literary fiction in e-format. The aspects showing the protagonist's early life in Morocco are particularly interesting, and eye-opening.

      Delete
  3. Interesting. These all look good! Looking forward to your review of TMA, Sarah. That one's on my TBR, (but who knows when I will get to it).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks - I'll report back as soon as I'm done!

      Delete
  4. I've only heard of The Moor's Account, which is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read :-) I'm looking forward to reading it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hope you enjoy it! I'd come across mention of the other two before but haven't read either one. Interesting that they all cover historical periods/people that other authors haven't dealt with in fiction.

      Delete
  5. What an exciting contest for those of us writing historical fiction. Thanks for posting this one. I'll keep it in mind when I publish my novel later this year -- I hope.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Faith, that's great you'll be publishing your novel later on - hope all goes well with it. There are a growing number of contests for historical fiction, which is nice for readers like me, too (this is one of the longer-running ones).

      Delete
  6. I don't know how I missed What Is Visible. It sounds really intriguing and I love the cover!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree - the cover is unusual and eye-catching.

      Delete
  7. Sarah, thank you so much for posting the results of the competition. The three novels are outstanding works of historical fiction, and I hope readers will give them a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, Ann, and thank you for your work in judging the works submitted for the prize - it's great to see the results! They all sound excellent, and it's also wonderful to see so much interest in American-set historical novels.

      Delete