The 24th annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship has been awarded to Alison Murphy of Boston, Mass., for her manuscript Balagan, a novel. She was awarded first place and is the recipient of $10,000. The competition is sponsored by the James Jones Literary Society and the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.
The first runner-up was Joel Freiburger of Chicago, Ill., for his novel The Mapmaker’s Daughter. Second runner-up was Gemma Cooper-Novack of Boston, Mass., for her novel, Watch You Disappear. Each runner-up recieved $1,000.
The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress. This year’s competition drew 634 submissions.
Alison Murphy is a writer and program director at GrubStreet Creative Writing Center. A lifelong military brat, her first novel, Balagan, is a product of the years she spent as a young adult living in Israel during the second intifada. She is a graduate of GrubStreet’s 2014-2015 Novel Incubator program, and her nonfiction can be found in Psychology Today, Men’s Journal, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti, among other online publications. In her spare time, she teaches creative writing to inmates in the prison system and is working on developing local creative writing programs for military veterans.
Set at the intersection of the second intifada in Israel and the Iraq war, Murphy’s novel, Balagan, tells the story of two American students whose lives are thrown into chaos after witnessing a suicide bombing. As the consequences of the attack spiral out of control, the effects stretching from Tel Aviv to war-torn Baghdad, their relationship to each other begins to mirror the relationship between the two wars.
Joel Freiburger’s work has been honored by the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and the Penguin/Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Most recently, Freiburger won a 2016 SDSU Conference Choice Award for The Mapmaker’s Daughter. After graduating from the University of Chicago, King’s College London, and the University of Notre Dame with degrees in liberal arts and philosophy, Freiburger studied with Aleksandar Hemon and Elizabeth Crane while studying for his master of fine arts degree at Northwestern University. He’s been a first mate at sea, an Odysseus scholar, a teacher, and a student traveler on a 12-week Eurail trip with little more than a journal, a backpack, and some lawn-mowing money. Joel grew up in New England, and now lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.
Freiburger’s novel, The Mapmaker’s daughter, is set in Estonia in the spring of 1934. When a scholarly mapmaker is killed, his daughter — Sinia Valk — plunges into Europe with the cryptic fragments of his library. She’ll contend with a genteel megalomaniac and a notorious art trafficker to find the rest of an ancient text: Homer’s lost epic, The Atlantida. As Sinia tries to sort her allies from her enemies, she crosses a postwar Mediterranean landscape, and untangles the puzzles of The Atlantida. To solve the final riddle she must join the megalomaniac who’s hunting her. They’ll form a treacherous bond with their knowledge, and retrace the story of Homer’s epic — the final voyage of Odysseus — to an island that gave rise to the myth of Atlantis.
Gemma Cooper-Novack is a writer, arts educator, and writing coach. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in more than twenty journals, including Ballard Street Poetry Journal (Pushcart Prize nomination), Bellevue Literary Review (Pushcart Prize nomination), Cider Press Review, Hanging Loose, Santa Fe Writers Project, and Printer’s Devil Review. Gemma’s plays have been produced in Chicago, Boston, and New York, and she diablogs on sinnerscreek.com. She has been awarded multiple artist’s residencies from Catalonia to Virginia and a grant from the Barbara Deming Fund, and enjoys baking cookies and walking on stilts in her spare time. Her debut poetry collection We Might As Well Be Underwater will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2017.
In Cooper-Novack’s novel, Watch You Disappear, Maya Corelli has been obsessed with kidnappings ever since the year her mother left with Maya’s brother Devin. As Maya ages and faces more and greater rejection for her butch identity, she finds the stories of kidnapping more absorbing and more of an escape. When her freshman year of college begins, Maya falls passionately in love with an emotionally unstable partner, Katie, who happens to be the victim of an infamous kidnapping case. An intense, tumultuous year both in school and in Maya’s family ends with Katie’s suicide; embroiled in grief the next year, Maya is compelled to engage with the political activism of her compassionate roommate, a second fractured romance, and the return of her brother to her life.
Requests for guidelines for entering the annual James Jones competition should be sent, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to James Jones First Novel Fellowship, c/o The Graduate Creative Writing Department, Wilkes University, 84 West South Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The submission deadline for entries is March 15 of each year.