Writer's Block: Naomi Benaron

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Congratulations to local writer Naomi Benaron, who won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Details below.

The 2010 winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, the largest monetary prize for unpublished fiction in North America, is announced: Naomi Benaron of Tucson will claim the $25,000 award and publication with the Bellwether’s partner publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C. The announcement marks the award’s 10th anniversary.

Prize founder Barbara Kingsolver calls Benaron’s manuscript, Running the Rift, culturally rich and completely engrossing. “It engages the reader with complex political questions about ethnic animosity in Rwanda and so many other issues relevant to North American readers," Kingsolver said. "For one, it conveys the impossibility of remaining neutral within a climate of broad moral compromise—even for purportedly apolitical institutions like the Olympics.”

Benaron’s unique background includes a Master of Fine Arts degree from Antioch University in Los Angeles , and a Master of Science degree in Earth Sciences from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, with a concentration in seismology. She is also a certified orthopedic massage therapist, and an Ironman Triathlete. Currently, she teaches at Pima Community College, works online with women writers in Afghanistan through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, and works with African refugees in the community.

"In my writing, what has always mattered most is to carry the human consequences of injustice to the reader’s heart and thus in some small way, bring healing,” Benaron said. “From the moment I heard about the Bellwether Prize, I knew it addressed exactly those principles I have strived for in telling the stories I tell. I cannot imagine a greater honor, a greater validation.”

The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially to a promising first-time novelist working in the tradition of socially engaged literature. Manuscripts are judged blind, to avoid any form of bias; the identity of the author of the winning manuscript (and all other submissions) is not known by any judge or prize administrator until after the decision is finalized. A rotating panel of judges selects the winning manuscript from a national pool of entries.

For the Bellwether Prize’s 10th anniversary selection, judges were chosen for their special understanding of the award’s mission—to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice. Barbara Kingsolver herself stepped into the role, alongside the first Bellwether recipient Donna Gershten (Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth, HarperCollins, 2001), and Kathy Pories of Algonquin, editor of the 2006 and 2008 Bellwether winners.

Running the Rift “is truly fearless writing: ambitious, beautiful, unapologetically passionate,” Kingsolver said. “I’m impressed and proud to add this novel to the list of Bellwether Prize recipients.”

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