Survival Instincts: First-time Novelists on the Ties that Bind



2012 Cabell First Novelist Winner, Justin Torres, will be reading along with Ayana Mathis at the Folger Shakespeare Theater on February 24! Presented by the Pen/Faulkner Foundation, the reading will be followed by a conversation on the makings-of these writers’ brilliant first novels. For more information, please check out the Pen/Faulkner website.


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Round Two Reading!


This year we received more than 110 books, and wow, are they beautiful! If you would like to become a volunteer reader, please head over to the James Branch Cabell Library at VCU, or the English Department, and simply check one of the books out. Once you’re finished, go to the reviewer page on the CFN website to download the review form. The reading period will end in the beginning of April (date TBD).

Also, if you’d rather read on your etablet, many of the titles can be downloaded through Richmond and Henrico County library websites.

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Photos from the 2013 Award Ceremony!


Here’s some great photos from the 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award Ceremony. Many thanks to our friends at VCU Libraries!

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Ramona Ausubel in Style Weekly


Have a look at a new First Novelist article by VCU’s own, Dale Brumfield, in the most recent Style Weekly! 

“Being a writer means you need to be like Velcro so that experiences stick,” author Ramona Ausubel says. “I try to be influenced by everything. For me, it’s about collecting details along the way.”


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Announcing the Winner of the 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award…

This year’s winner was chosen from nearly 140 titles which were read by diverse members of Virginia Commonwealth University’s academic community and a panel of judges. Each of the finalists came from a strong and uniquely talented writer.

We are happy to announce that the winner of this year’s award is Ramona Ausubel for her outstanding debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us!
CFN 2013 Promo

Praise for No One Is Here Except All of Us:

“Ramona Ausubel’s debut, No One Is Here Except All of Us (Riverhead), captures the magical group-think of a Romanian village that retreats into an imaginary reality at the outbreak of war.” — Vogue

“Fantastical and ambitious… infused with faith in the power of storytelling… Light and tenderness persevere – in a shining moon, in a candle still aglow, in a mother’s embrace of her child.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Here we are, benevolent and cruel, gorgeous and deranged, in a truly enthralling saga which simply staggered me with its capacity for gratitude. No One is Here Except All of Us is a special work of the imagination, an original gift, dark and light, and Ramona Ausubel colors it all with a glowing wisdom.” — Ron Carlson, author of The Signal

Stay tuned for more information about the award event this fall. Until then, check out Ms. Ausubel’s novel and website!

And Now, The 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award Finalists…

After much reading and discussion, the First Novelist Committee has chosen three superb novels as finalists for the 2013 award:


No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man by Nick Dybek
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

We’d like to thank all the volunteer readers who participated in the selection process this year, and also, many thanks to the authors who submitted their debut novels!

The winner of the 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award will be announced in early July.

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The 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Semifinalists

This year we had a record-breaking number of submissions, nearly 140 first novels in all.  After many months of reading and reviewing, we have finally narrowed the selection to 14 semifinalists.

We’d like to thank all of those who submitted to the award last year, and also, all of our wonderful volunteer readers in the VCU English Department, the James Branch Cabell Library, and the Richmond literary community.

Without further ado, the 2013 semifinalists are….


Fobbit by David Abrams
Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander
No One Is Here Except All Of Us by Ramona Ausubel
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man by Nick Dybek
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Girl Below by Bianca Zander
Stay tuned for news on our three finalists in just a few more weeks!

“The Afterlife of Emerson Tang” by Paula Champa


Congrats to Paula Champa, VCU MFA alum, for publishing her first novel!  Grab a copy of “The Afterlife of Emerson Tang” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) at your nearest bookstore!

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The First Novel: David Gordon and “The Serialist”

In our third interview of our ongoing series, we catch up with 2011 Cabell First Novelist winner, David Gordon, and ask a few questions about his first novel, The Serialist.  We also learn a bit more about his upcoming second novel, Mystery Girl, which will be released in July 2013 (Thomas & Mercer).  Receiving critical acclaim across the board, including a starred review from Booklist, The Serialist tells the story of Harry Bloch, a freelance writer whose life takes a sudden horrific turn after he agrees to write the memoir of death-row inmate, Darian Clay (aka The Photo Killer).

Interview was conducted by former MFA fiction student, Tom Batten, during Tom De Haven’s First Novelist Seminar, Fall 2011.  Additional questions about Mystery Girl were recently asked via email by First Novelist coordinators.

How long did it take you to write the novel? How many drafts did you go through?

The whole process took about two years including revisions with my editor. I don’t know how many drafts really. A lot. I want to say maybe seven or eight before I sold it and then several more after. Ten? Also I tend to pull out individual parts and re-do them very intensively, like say taking the carburetor out of a car and rebuilding it then putting it back, driving around the block, taking out the radiator, etc. So yes, a lot of revising. (more…)

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Wordy Birds Interview with Justin Torres

Host Liz Humes from Wordy Birds had a chance to sit down with Justin Torres before the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for an interview.  Have a listen with the link up top!

Wordy Birds is a radio program about books and ideas that airs every Friday at noon on WRIR 97.3 FM. The program brings to the airwaves both local and international best-selling authors. An archive of previous episodes can be found on


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