By Gina Malone
Since 1955, the Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) has presented the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award for books, both fiction and nonfiction, that focus special attention on Western North Carolina. This year the award will be presented to Julia Franks for her acclaimed novel Over the Plain Houses on Saturday, November 11, from 4–6 p.m. at the Asheville Renaissance Hotel.
Members of the selection panel call the book “a stunning debut novel, set profoundly in Depression-era WNC, [that] focuses on the familial and communal conflict that arises out of a man’s utter commitment to fundamentalist religion.” Franks is praised for a lack of sentimentality, for not stereotyping Appalachian people and for her “detailed, nuanced and poetic observations of farm life and logging.”
Nominations for the award this year numbered nearly 30 works that included Daniel Pierce’s Hazel Creek, Stephanie Powell Watts’ No One Is Coming to Save Us, Ron Rash’s The Risen and Wilma Dykeman’s Family of Earth. A panel of scholars makes the selection for the prestigious award.
“Believe me,” says Franks, “when I say I was very, very surprised to win this award. So many of my role models have been either past winners or are current finalists this year. I’m so very honored to have my work next to theirs.” Past winners include Robert Morgan, Gail Godwin, Charles Frazier and Wilma Dykeman, who won in 1955 for The French Broad.
Finalists are invited to read from their nominated works during the presentation ceremony. The award originated with the Louis Lipinsky family and is now also supported by Michael Sartisky, Ph.D., who chaired the awards panel, and by the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Advisory Board.
For tickets to the presentation and the reception that follows, visit wnchistory.org or call 828.253.9231. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for WNCHA members. The Renaissance Hotel is located at 31 Woodfin Street in downtown Asheville.