The 25th Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship awarded first place and $10,000 to Erin Kate Ryan of Minneapolis, Minn., for her manuscript titled Quantum Girl Theory. The competition is co-sponsored by the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University and the James Jones Literary Society.
The first runner-up was Glori Simmons of Oakland, Calif., for her novel Restell. Second runner-up was Chia-Chia Lin of San Bruno, Calif., for her novel The Unpassing. Each runner-up received $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.” Jones was the author of the National Book Award winning novel From Here to Eternity as well as the novels Some Came Running and The Thin Red Line. It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress. This year’s competition drew 591 submissions.
Erin Kate Ryan’s fiction has appeared in publications such as Glimmer Train, Conjunctions, The Normal School, Booth, Hayden Ferry’s Review, and Copper Nickel. Her work has been honored by scholarships, fellowships, and grants from The McKnight Foundation, The Jerome Foundation (Minnesota Emerging Writers), BreadLoaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Millay Colony, Virginia Studio Center, and the Minnesota State Arts Board, among others. She holds degrees from the Bennington Writing Seminars and Boston University School of Law. Ryan believes in art as a powerful force for social change and is committed to using her writing to that end.
Quantum Girl Theory unfurls from the contradictory, implausible, and truefalse newspaper coverage of the real-life disappearance of 18-year-old Paula Jean Welden from her Bennington College dorm room on Dec. 1, 1946. Each chapter follows a life that she might have lived after placing her hand on the door knob: from faded Vegas showgirl to novice nun, from literary forger to clairvoyant girl detective. Missing girls are only missing to the people they leave behind. So perhaps Paula Jean Welden never disappeared: maybe she knew where she was all along.
Glori Simmons novel, Restell is based on the life of Ann Lohman, a poor British immigrant who turns from tailoring to female remedies and midwifery in order to make a fortune in 19th century New York City. While Lohman, a.k.a. Madame Restell, was notorious throughout her professional life as an abortionist, this novel focuses on her personal struggles and relationships, illuminating the challenges of being a successful female entrepreneur in “Gangs of New York” Manhattan. At the same time, it examines the complicated relationships between Ann and her closest family members—her husband and daughter. When Ann is found with her throat cut in the lavish bathtub of her mansion, we must ask: was this the work of her own trained hand? Or the work of her greedy family?
Chia-Chia Lin’s novel The Unpassing is an immigrant family drama that unfolds on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska, in the mid-1980s. Following the death of the youngest child, the family grapples with debilitating grief alongside sparse landscapes, social and cultural isolation and, eventually, financial ruin. Ultimately, the children are forced to confront the self-destructive tendencies of their dreamer father and the legacy of their family’s failed uprooting.