Winners of the 2009 AWP Award Series

The AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction

Winner: David Vann
Last Day on Earth, University of Georgia Press

Lee Gutkind, Judge: I hated reading Last Day on Earth, but I kept coming back to it. Each chapter was taut, mysterious and compelling.  And when I did stop reading–I devoured it in three sittings--I was haunted by Steve, a mass murderer, and his slow, steady transformation from Dean's Award winner to shooter.  What makes this book especially appealing is the parallel narrative–the writer living a screwed up childhood, who, like Steve, finds himself in the possession of many guns and the urge to use them and potentially do harm.  What the writer discovers is that the line between self destruction and survival and success is frighteningly easy to cross.  Last Day on Earth is written with a cold staccato passion–with intensive attention to intimacy of detail.  It is riveting reading.'

David Vann’s story collection, Legend of a Suicide, was the winner of the 2007 Grace Paley Prize and a California Book Award and was named a Notable Book of 2008 by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Kansas City Star, and the Story Prize.  The paperback will come out from HarperCollins in January 2010, the UK and Commonwealth edition from Viking UK in October 2009.  The book will also appear in French and Italian.  A contributor to many journals, Vann is also author of the best-selling memoir, A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea, and a forthcoming novel, Caribou Island (HarperCollins 2011). He’s been featured in documentaries by the BBC, NOVA, and CNN and sold the film rights to his unpublished memoir, Crocodile: Memoirs From a Mexican Drug-Running Port.  He’s been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, a Wallace Stegner Fellow, and a John L’Heureux Fellow, and has taught at Stanford and Cornell, where he received his degrees, and he is currently a professor at the University of San Francisco.  His website is

The AWP Award Series in the Novel

Winner: Kevin Fenton
Merit Badges, New Issues Press

Jim Shepard, Judge: Merit Badges lays out for the reader an entire, if circumscribed, world, in all of its limitations and surprising possibilities, rendered with a heartening intelligence and tenderness and wit — "The weather was like me, only more so. The weather needed some counseling" — and in so doing reminds us of Simone Weil's understanding that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

Kevin Fenton lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and works as an advertising writer and creative director. He has published stories in the Laurel Review, the Northwest Review, and Emprise Review; poetry in the Beloit Poetry Journal, and reviews and essays in Rain Taxi, the design quarterlies Émigré and Eye (London), and the Minneapolis StarTribune. An essay was anthologized in Looking Closer 2: Critical Writing On Graphic Design. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School. He serves on the board of two organizations: Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

Novel Finalist: Stephen Minot, Women of the House

Donald Hall Prize for Poetry

Winner: Bradley Paul
The Animals All Are Gathering, University of Pittsburgh Press

Jean Valentine, Judge: In this original and wonderfully energetic book, Bradley Paul moves from humor to mockery to play to anger to grief, and sometimes all at once. This poetry shifts, it slams, it hammers, it thinks; it corrodes our sorrow and foolishness; it captures our national haplessness, sad and firing and still.

Bradley Paul was born in Baltimore in 1972. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Pleiades, Smartish Pace, Boston Review, and other journals. His first book of poetry, The Obvious, was selected by Brenda Hillman for the 2004 New Issues Poetry Prize. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the painter and writer Karri Paul, and their dog, Violet.

Poetry Finalist: Jennifer Fumiko Cahill, The Fox Bride

The Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction

Winner: Christine Sneed
Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry, University of Massachusetts Press

Allan Gurganus, Judge: If this story-collection crackles with the energy of youth, it also feels written by a cool-eyed soul reincarnated at least three times. The fiction shows a stringent, inevitable sense of narrative patterning. Though these tales are based in quirky character, plot unfolds from them with twists and doublings-back that keep us first off-guard then hooked.
-A young woman accepts money from one suave stranger her grandfather's age. She next offers him quiet erotic favors that soon cut her off from all the usual bad luck–and therefore from her life itself.
-A boy movie star enrolls in a college course. He and his bodyguard swamp the moral eco-system of the class then the ethical confidence of one young woman teacher.
By turns funny and pitiless, these tales amount to a vision. We note how characters' forebears colored and shaped them, for good or ill. The book's voice is unforced in its ready wit, detached compassion. There is an admirable candor. Each character's sexuality seems the natural outcome of a life fully-risked. The collection promises further accomplishment. But it also reveals one talent already enjoying itself–with erotic abandon, a feline completeness.

Christine Sneed is a graduate of the MFA writing program at Indiana University and has published stories in Best American Short Stories 2008, New England Review, Massachusetts Review, Meridian, Other Voices, Greensboro Review, River Styx, Phoebe, South Dakota Review, and several other journals.  She has been awarded an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in poetry and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. She lives in Evanston, IL and teaches creative writing and literature courses at DePaul University in Chicago.

Short Fiction Finalist: Jane Bradley, Are We Lucky Yet?

List of Winners

The Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction are made possible by the generous support of:

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See a list of previous AWP Award Series winners.