During November 2015’s James Jones Literary Society symposium, the two most recent winners of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship read from their works. Cam Terwilliger of Montreal, Quebec, received the 2014 award for his entry, Yet the Wilderness Grew in My Heart. Josie Sigler, of Portland, Oregon, won in 2015 with her manuscript titled The Flying Sampietrini, a novel. Each received a $10,000 prize for first place.
Terwilliger’s Yet Wilderness Grew in My Heart is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War. It centers on Andrew Whitlaw, a gentleman physician. After a ruinous attempt to found Manhattan’s first medical college, Whitlaw must return to his older brother’s manor in the Hudson Valley. There, the physician becomes embroiled in his brother’s obsessive pursuit of William Bell, a counterfeiter operating on nearby Native American land. When Whitlaw discovers a native girl claiming to be Bell’s wife, she leads him into the heart of the frontier in search of the mysterious counterfeiter.
Terwilliger’s writing has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including West Branch, Electric Literature, Post Road, and Narrative, where he was selected as one of the magazine’s “15 Under 30.” His fiction has also been supported by fellowships from the Fulbright Program, Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation and the American Antiquarian Society. A graduate of Emerson College’s master of fine arts program, he has taught at Grub Street and Louisiana State University.
Sigler’s novel, The Flying Sampietrini, tells the story of Celestino, a member of the corps of workers whose ancestors built St. Peter’s Basilica. For nearly five centuries, the men of his family have labored at dizzying heights and daunting depths to care for sacred objects and works of art. During the German occupation of Rome in World War II, Celestino must choose between protecting those works of art and saving the lives of a group of Jewish boys who’ve fallen under his care. Sixty years later, his granddaughter, Michela, an art historian and conservator living in New York City, has lost her lover in the bombing of the World Trade Center. While awaiting the birth of their first child, she finds a series of journals in which her grandfather has written his story.
Sigler is the author of The Galaxie and Other Rides, a collection of stories set largely in post-industrial Detroit. Her book of poems, living must bury, won the Motherwell Prize and was published by Fence Books. Her short work “The Compartment” garnered Gulf Coast’s Barthelme Prize. She has completed numerous writing residencies, including time at The Millay Colony for the Arts and the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Residency. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant. Sigler holds a dual doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California.