The Library of Virginia’s 20th Annual Virginia Literary Awards Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 14, was always going to be special for Sweet Briar professors and husband and wife, John Gregory and Carrie Brown. Both had published books last year and both were nominated for an award — John Gregory in the fiction category and Carrie for the People’s Choice Award. But neither one expected to win. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
“In the car on the way there, I asked if he’d even taken the time to prepare remarks, should he win, and he said ‘no’,” recalled Carrie, who is the Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence at Sweet Briar.
John Gregory asked her the same question. Carrie had not prepared anything, either.
“We were very surprised indeed, and I fear a bit tongue-tied at the podium,” she added. “But I’m so pleased to have the books recognized — especially John’s, actually, as it’s my favorite of his novels — and we feel deeply honored. The Library of Virginia does writers and readers an important service by organizing these awards every year, and it puts on quite a party. It was a happy night for the Browns.”
John Gregory, who is the Julia Jackson Nichols Professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Sweet Briar, received the Emyl Jenkins Sexton Literary Award for Fiction for his 2016 novel, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere.” Other nominees included Kelley Kerney (“Hard Red Spring”) and Lee Clay Johnson (“Nitro Mountain”).
According to a press release from the Library of Virginia, the judges praised John Gregory’s comedic touch, saying it “[elevated] a quirky Southern odyssey into a masterful exploration of grace, loss and redemption.”
Carrie won the People’s Choice Award for her latest, “The Stargazer’s Sister,” in a true David-versus-Goliath contest, beating out John Grisham (“The Whistler”), Jane Alison (“Nine Island”), Kathleen Grissom (“Glory Over Everything”) and Elizabeth Poliner (“As Close to Us as Breathing”).
“I was so thrilled that she won out over John Grisham,” John Gregory said. “Whoever wins out over John Grisham in a vote by readers? So it was an amazing night all around. We got to visit with writers we admire — Rita Dove, who won the poetry award, and Beth Macy, an incredible journalist and author. And we got to meet Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of ‘Hidden Figures,’ and Senator Tim Kaine, who spoke eloquently about the value of literature. The Library of Virginia is a great institution, and we’re so very honored to be recognized for our books.”
The ceremony was hosted by award-winning author Adriana Trigiani. David Baldacci was honored with the 2017 Literary Lifetime Achievement Award. The Literary Award for Nonfiction and the People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction both went to Margot Lee Shetterly. Rita Dove won the Literary Award for Poetry for her “Collected Poems: 1974-2004,” while Dawn Tripp received the 2017 Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award for “Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe.” Lisa Maxwell won the 2017 Young Adult Virginia Author Award, sponsored by the Richmond Public Library Foundation, for “Unhooked.”
“The Stargazer’s Sister” is Carrie’s seventh novel. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards for her work, and her short stories and essays have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals. Read more at authorcarriebrown.com.
John Gregory is the author of the novels “Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery,” “The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur” and “Audubon’s Watch.” His honors include a Lyndhurst Prize, the Lillian Smith Award, the John Steinbeck Award, a Howard Foundation fellowship and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Book of the Year Award. He also is a 2017 recipient of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award.
The Library of Virginia’s annual literary awards were first given in 1998 to recognize the best books published the previous year by Virginia authors or on a Virginia theme. The People’s Choice Awards were established in 2004 to give readers an opportunity to share their enthusiasm for favorite works by Virginia authors. An independent panel of judges selects finalists for the awards from the books nominated for the annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards.
Next year’s Literary Awards Celebration will be held on Oct. 13, 2018.