And Now, the 2012 Cabell First Novelist Award Finalists. . .

Drumroll, please. . .

Reading, discussing, deciding among the VCU community and First Novelist Committee Members has brought us to our final three books.

 2012 Cabell First Novelist Award Finalists


Thanks again to everyone who helped with the reading.  And may the most outstanding debut novel win!

The winner will be announced in early July.

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The 2012 First Novelist Award Semifinalists . . .

It has been quite a year here at First Novelist HQ. After a fabulous ten-year celebration and festival,we welcomed 2012 with an impressive new stack of books to dive into. Think of the Olympics, remove any sort of physical exertion, replace injuries with papercuts and weakened eyes from absorbing the many great lines that danced before our eyes, and you have a general idea of what it’s like to be a First Novelist reader. This year’s submissions took us all over the globe and time periods, and introduced us to a myriad of exciting and hilarious characters and adventures.

Alas, we can only have one winner. . . 

Chosen from nearly one hundred titles read by diverse members of the VCU Community, it is with great pleasure that the First Novelist Committee reveals the list of our 2012 Semifinalists.


2012 Semifinalists

The Brother’s Lot by Kevin Holohan

Show Me Good Land Shonna Milliken Humphrey

A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism by Peter Mountford

The Book of Want by Daniel Olivas

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park

and yet they were happy by Helen Phillips

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Along the Watchtower by Constance Squires

We the Animals by Justin Torres

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Touch by Alexi Zentner   

. . Stay tuned for news of our winner later this summer.    



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Today is the Second (and Last) Day of the 2011 VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival

Did you miss yesterday’s events? Or are you just eager for more?

Then you’re in luck. . .today is day two of the 2011 VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival. Tonight, at 7:00 p.m. in the Commons Theater of the VCU Student Commons (907 Floyd Ave.), 2011 Award-winner David Gordon (pictured) will first read from his novel, The Serialist, and then join a panel with his agent, Doug Stewart, and his editor, Karen Thompson, to be moderated by Prof. Susann Cokal, to discuss how an idea in a writer’s head somehow becomes a published, tangible product. If you’ve ever wondered about the behind-the-scenes world of publishing, this is the event for you. Maybe you’ve been itching to get the process started on your own first novel. Or you’re an English major wondering about what really happens when art becomes business. Or you’re just a fan of good literature. (Maybe all three, right?)

Don’t let the rain stop you–this is a once-a-year event. Let’s celebrate The Serialist and literature tonight.

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The 2011 VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival Starts Today

It’s that time of year, folks! The VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival is starting TODAY in Richmond. Since it’s our 10-year anniversary, we’ve put together a special two-day event.

TONIGHT (Tuesday, November 15), come out to hear NPR book critic and novelist Alan Cheuse give a keynote address on the future of publishing, to be followed by a panel on the post-Award career, moderated by Prof. Tom De Haven and featuring past winners Michael Byers (2004), Maribeth Fischer (2002), and Victor Lodato (2010). This great line-up will start at 7:00 p.m. in the Commonwealth Ballrooms of the VCU Student Commons (907 Floyd Ave.).

TOMORROW (Wednesday, November 16), be sure to attend the traditional celebration of the winning author. David Gordon, winner of the 2011 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for The Serialist, will read from the winning novel and then join a panel moderated by Prof. Susann Cokal and featuring Gordon’s agent, Doug Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic and his editor, Karen Thompson of Simon & Schuster. There they’ll discuss the practicalities of writing and publishing a novel. This event starts at 7:00 p.m. in the Commons Theater of the VCU Student Commons (907 Floyd Ave.).

This is a one-of-a-kind event for a one-of-a-kind award. We hope to see you there!

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“500 Words” by Tom De Haven: The First Novel Workshop

Tom De Haven is the author of 18 books, including the Derby Dugan Trilogy (Funny Papers, Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies, Dugan Under Ground), the King’s Tramp Trilogy (Walker of Worlds, The End-of-Everything Man, The Last Human), Freaks’ Amour, Jersey Luck, Sunburn Lake and It’s Superman! His most recent works, Richmond Noir (co-edited with Andrew Blossom and Brian Castleberry) and Our Hero were published in early 2010. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review and has taught in the MFA creative writing program at VCU since 1990. He is a co-founder of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and lectures and writes frequently on American cartoonists and comic strips.

There’s a snapshot I’ve kept in a crappy glass frame for going on 20 years. It’s sun-faded now and slightly torn, but there we all are, preposterously young and looking glad to be clumped together around a table in a room that seems the sort of place they’d take you in handcuffs to meet with your public defender. In reality it was a seminar room on the VCU campus, and everybody in the picture (as well as the photographer) was a member of the MFA program’s first novel workshop, still to this day the most boisterous and satisfying time I’ve spent teaching–well, not “teaching,” that’s not the right word. I didn’t then, and don’t now, know how you “teach” somebody else to write a novel; no, not teaching–facilitating, encouraging, hectoring (benignly), having long rambling conversations about the treacherous and sublime process of composing a book-length work of fiction.

By the time the photograph was taken, we were no longer just a group of graduate writing students and their professor, but a tight, determined cadre invested in everyone’s work, so much so that it had become both a game and a hallmark that each writer would slip into his or her own novel the names of characters from another’s. Somebody’s existential protagonist became somebody else’s walk-on cranky plumber.

A year-long novel workshop seems a no-brainer now, but it wasn’t in the early 1990s. MFA fiction students wrote stories for short-fiction workshops, even though a good number of them wanted to publish novels. The pedagogy was this: first you learn your craft writing short stuff, then, once you have sufficient chops, you’ll just . . . do the same thing, essentially, only at greater length. And a novel will pop out. But I’ve never subscribed to that notion.

Writers who excel at–who are even very good at–both forms are not as common as you’d think. In fact, the reason I originally proposed a novel workshop was because I’d felt like a fake running short story workshops when I’d published less than half a dozen of them myself–less than some of my grad students! But novels I knew about; novels I thought about, practically and abstractly, all the time. It’s what I “did,” and, further, I wanted to know if it was possible to assemble a group of novelist-wannabes who would not write in isolation, as I had, but would, instead, uncompetitively share their work (often messy and tentative) with others as it progressed. Could they receive regular criticism and yet continue to move forward, resisting the natural temptation to go back and fix everything first? That was the crucial question. If they couldn’t move their manuscripts ahead despite recognizing infelicities and huge problems, the workshop, ultimately, would fail.

Turns out, they could plunge on, and plunge on they did, which is why I keep that old photograph in my office. I like seeing those self-confident smiles. (And, I admit, I also like seeing myself with thick dark hair.)

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Recap of the 2010 VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival

We’ve got what you’ve all been waiting for–a recap of our latest First Novelist Festival.

This past November, the ninth annual VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival brought winning author Victor Lodato and his agent, Courtney Hodell of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, to Richmond.

At the reception prior to the main event, Lodato and Hodell met with VCU faculty and students and other members of the Richmond literary community. It was a great opportunity for MFA students to talk with an acclaimed writer and an accomplished literary agent.

Later, Lodato gave an inspired reading of his winning novel, Mathilda Savitch, that perfectly captured the humorous, yet poignant nature of his title character.

He then joined a panel with Hodell, moderated by VCU MFA alumna Patty Smith, where they discussed the creative process behind Mathila Savitch. Lodato and Hodell also took questions from the audience about the practical aspects of publishing.

The 2010 Festival’s main event was a great night for all participants. If you didn’t make it to this one, make sure you attend the 10th anniversary festival this fall!

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Presenting this Year’s Winner, Victor Lodato!

victorBio2.jpgWe announced that Victor Lodato won the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award over the summer, but we thought it might be a good time to tell you a little more about Mr. Lodato. After all, he is coming to Richmond in a few weeks to celebrate his beautiful and heartbreaking Mathilda Savitch with us. (Yes, take note, this year’s VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival will take place on November 4th, with a Q&A at 2pm in VCU Cabell Library’s 4th floor Cabell room, followed by a reading and panel discussion with Mr. Lodato’s agent and editor in the Singleton Center at 7pm. Refreshments will be served. Both events are open to the public.)

Lodato is a successful playwright, poet, and, most recently, novelist. Quite a mighty feat.

This story, published in the Washington Post in 2009, highlights the circumstances of the recent staging of not one but three of his plays. As both a bleak and intriguing entry point to his Blood of Winter, Lodato says that it is “set five minutes in the future . . . [when people have] forgotten to keep each other warm.”

One of his primary writerly concerns is human connection and disconnection, as his transporting poem “The Kiss” also shows in its description of a child witnessing the fervor of adults embracing on New Year’s Eve.

Mathilda Savitch also has a narrator in the mode of childhood, but a different phase. As noted by UK Guardian reviewer, Kate Webb, in his first novel, Lodato has taken on the project of telling “his story through the eyes of a pubescent girl, just shy of her first period.” It is a feat at which he is a fabulous success, as Webb continues, “Mathilda is a startlingly successful invention: intellectually
innovative and oblique – as only the young can be – pumped with resolve . . . ludic, fierce, unremitting.” We certainly agree, and hope you will, too.

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