Taking On the Thomas Wolfe Prize

by Tommy Hays, Executive Director, Great Smokies Writing Program

Last year Ed Southern, Executive Director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, approached the Great Smokies Writing Program about taking on the facilitation of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize. We were honored to be entrusted with participating in such a prestigious literary award.

The Great Smokies Writing Program administrator, Nancy Williams, spearheaded the process, coordinating the reading by our preliminary readers of a record 220 entries. All entries were read “blind,” with no knowledge of the writer’s identity. I was one of two semi-finalist readers; David Radavich, past president of the Thomas Wolfe Society and currently President of the North Carolina Poetry Society, who has been reading for the prize since its inception, was the other. Acclaimed novelist Lee Smith then selected the winner and the two honorable mentions. The process went smoothly and, by all accounts, was a pleasure for everyone involved.

The UNC Asheville writing community was happy to learn that a former student, Mesha Maren, was winner of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize. Mesha’s winning entry was a short story, “Chokedamp,” and she will receive $1,000 and possible publication in The Thomas Wolfe Review. Her work has appeared in Tin House, The Oxford American, Hobart, The Barcelona Review, and Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial. She is the recipient of a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from LMU University, and a residency fellowship from the Ucross Foundation.

About winning the Wolfe Fiction Prize Mesha says, “The prize came at a particularly perfect time for me, as I am finishing the fourth draft of a novel-in-progress and winter is finally ending. Writing can often be an isolating activity and sometimes it is hard to gauge your own progress, so it feels great to get positive affirmation from someone like Lee Smith.”

Elizabeth Oliver of Apex, North Carolina, and Roz Spafford of Toronto, Canada, were named Honorable Mentions for their stories “Just Wait” and “Painting the Door,” respectively. Their stories will also be considered for publication in The Thomas Wolfe Review.

So if you write stories, mark your calendar. The competition accepts submissions annually from December 1 to January 30 and is open to all writers. Submitted stories must be unpublished and can’t exceed twelve double-spaced pages. Keep this prize in mind. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll be writing about you.

Tommy Hays is Executive Director of UNC Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program. He also teaches in UNCA’s Master of Liberal Arts Program. His most recent novel, What I Came to Tell You, is a 2014 VOYA Top Shelf Pick for Fiction for Middle School Readers. (For more about Tommy’s books, go to tommyhays.com).