Tiffany B. Davis
Wiley Cash of Wilmington, author of A Land More Kind Than Home
, was celebrated Monday night at Crook’s Corner as the inaugural recipient of the famed Chapel Hill eatery’s namesake book prize.
The contest was open to first-time novelists whose published works were set in the South. More than 100 writers from across the country competed for the prize, which confers $1,000 cash, bragging rights and, in the fashion of Parisian literary cafes, a glass of wine a day for a year at Crook’s.
“It’s just such a fine novel, period. But for it to be a first novel, I think it really knocks it out of the park,” says best-selling author Jill McCorkle, who picked the winning entry from a field of four finalists. “Also, I’m a sucker for a child narrator. I think it is hard to walk that line, but he never once fell off that tightrope.”
McCorkle is a professor of creative writing at N.C. State University and a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. She said that all four finalists produced exceptional books, but Cash stood out for “what he had taken on in terms of point of view and weaving everyone’s history into place. He gave himself a very difficult assignment. It was very ambitious and completely successful.”
Cash’s novel has been described as a tragic ballad rooted in the unquestioning faith of a small community in the mountains of western North Carolina. The New York Times
chose it as “Notable Book of the
Year” for 2013, describing it as “mesmerizing … [an] intensely felt and beautiful story.”
For his well-drawn sense of place, Wiley earned rapturous comparisons to Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. The Richmond Times-Dispatch
took its description of the chilling page-turner a step further: “[It] reads a little as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.”
McCorkle says Cash represents a distinct voice in new Southern literature. She was similarly impressed with his second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy.
“Wiley Cash is the kind of writer who could take you into any situation. These people happen to be Southern, but emotionally, these stories could be anywhere,” she says. “I’m always looking for that story that transcends the place and the period to deliver an emotional truth that anybody, anywhere would understand. I think that’s the goal of fiction.”
Entries are now being accepted for the second annual Crook’s Corner Book Prize, which will be judged by writer Randall Kenan. Author of the award-winning Let the Dead Bury Their Dead
, Kenan is a professor of creating writing at UNC Chapel Hill.
Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer in Raleigh who blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.