Justin Torres Wins 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for 'We the Animals'
University Public Affairs
Justin Torres has won the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. His winning book, “We the Animals,” is a powerful coming-of-age novel about three brothers growing up amidst the chaotic and destructive love of their working-class parents.
Torres will receive the award at the VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival at Virginia Commonwealth University on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St. Torres will read from "We The Animals" and participate in a panel discussion with his agent and editor discussing the journey of his novel from idea to published work. For more information and to register, visit http://novelist.library.vcu.edu/festival.html.
He was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its eleventh year. The other finalists were Alexi Zentner for “Touch” and Peter Mountford for “A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism.”
Published in August 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, “We the Animals” is narrated by the youngest sibling in a voice that is both compelling and urgent and prose that is brutally honest and beautifully poetic. Composed in short, disjointed chapters, the novel swiftly moves through six years in the tumultuous childhood of the three brothers as they claw their way toward adulthood.
“We the Animals” has received critical acclaim. Christopher Isherwood of The New York Times wrote that the novel relates “an affecting story of love, loss and the irreversible trauma that a single event can bring to a family.” In his Esquire review, author Benjamin Percy proclaimed “Torres's sentences are gymnastic, leaping and twirling, but never fancy for the sake of fancy, always justified by the ferocity and heartbreak and hunger and slap-happy euphoria of these three boys.”
The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award celebrates the VCU MFA in Creative Writing Program’s year-long novel workshop, the first in the nation and one of the few still in existence. The winning author receives a $5,000 cash prize. Travel expenses and lodging also are provided for the author and his or her agent and editor to attend the VCU Cabell First Novelist Festival, a series of events that focus on the creation, publication and promotion of a debut novel.
Co-sponsors of the award and the festival are the VCU Department of English, the VCU MFA Program in Creative Writing, the James Branch Cabell Library Associates, the VCU Friends of the Library, VCU Libraries, the VCU Honors College, Barnes & Noble @ VCU and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.
Nearly 100 novels were submitted for this year’s prize. A university-wide panel of readers in addition to readers from the Richmond community reduced the list to 12 semifinalists and ultimately three finalists. The finalists were then considered by a panel of judges consisting of David Gordon, winner of the 2011 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for “The Serialist”; Maya Payne Smart, writer and chair of James River Writers; and bestselling author Tama Janowitz.
In addition to Gordon, previous winners of the award have included Victor Lodato for “Mathilda Savitch,” Deb Olin Unferth for “Vacation,” Travis Holland for “The Archivist’s Story,” Peter Omer for “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo,” Karen Fisher for “A Sudden Country,” Lorraine Adams for “Harbor,” Michael Byers for “Long for this World,” Isabel Zuber for “Salt” and Maribeth Fischer for “The Language of Good-bye.”
The deadline for the 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award was September 15 for books published January through June 2012. For books published July through December 2012, the deadline is January 12, 2013. For more information, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu.