Peter Orner wins VCU First Novelist Award for 'stunningly observed' debut novel

Peter Orner is the winner of the 2007 VCU First Novelist Award for “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo,” his critically praised novel set at a remote school in Namibia.

The First Novelist Award recognizes the best debut novel published during a calendar year. Orner, also the author of a collection of short stories called “Esther Stories,” will travel to the annual First Novelist ceremony in the fall at VCU, where he will receive a $1,000 cash prize.

“The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo” beat out fellow finalists “The Best People in the World” by Justin Tussing; “Cellophane” by Marie Ana; and “The Fugitive Wife” by Peter C. Brown. Excerpts from “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo” can be found at Blackbird, the online literary journal of VCU and New Virginia Review Inc.

Karen Fisher, author of “A Sudden Country” and winner of the 2006 First Novelist Award, said “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo” was “stunningly observed, with very generous and funny writing.”

“’Shikongo’ blew me away with the absolute authenticity of situation and detail,” said Fisher, one of this year’s judges for the award. “It treated a real time and place with dignity. Its precision made it universal, and I sensed resonances and truths that I hadn’t expected.”

VCU professors Laura Browder, playwright and author (“Her Best Shot,” “Slippery Characters,” “Rousing the Nation”), and Tom De Haven, novelist and facilitator of the VCU novel workshop (“It's Superman!,” “Funny Papers,” “Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies”) created the VCU First Novelist Award. The award is presented annually on behalf of VCU's MFA in Creative Writing Program.

It is made possible in part by the generosity of Richmond writer and VCU alumnus David Baldacci (“Total Control,” “Absolute Power”). Co-sponsors include the eFollett VCU Bookstore. The award is supported by Virginia Commonwealth University and the VCU Department of English.

The award celebrates the nation's first — and still one of the very few — year-long novel workshops. Created to recognize a rising new talent in the literary world who has successfully published a first novel, nominations are solicited from MFA programs nationwide as well as from publishers, editors, agents and writers.

The selection of the winner starts with more than 100 readers from VCU in the Richmond community. The readers review submitted novels (more than 100 this year), choosing a list of semifinalists and finalists. An independent panel of judges reviews the finalists and selects a winner. This year’s judges were Fisher; David Robbins, author of "The Assassins Gallery;” and Ward Tefft, owner of Chop Suey Books in Richmond.

For more information about the award, visit the VCU First Novelist Web site.