Novelist Cash takes home first Crook’s Corner prize

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 09:29 AM

Wiley Cash was working at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington in support of Small Business Saturday when he got a call that he was on the long list for the first Crook’s Corner Book Prize. “It was a real surprise for me to be on the long list,” he said during his acceptance speech for the prize earlier this week at the restaurant.
Cash received the inaugural prize – a $1,000 check and a free glass of wine each day of the prize year from Crook’s – for his debut novel “A Land More Kind than Home,” chosen among four finalists. In the novel, 9-year-old Jess Hall watches members of a church call his autistic brother into a service. What happens to his brother causes Jess to question what he has been taught about the world. Cash tells the story through the eyes of Jess, Sheriff Clem Barefield and Adelaide Lyle.
Novelist Jill McCorkle (author of “Life After Life,” “Ferris Beach,” “Carolina Moon” and other novels) chose the first prize, calling Cash’s narrative technique “a masterful accomplishment.” Other finalists, narrowed from a list of 12, were “Code of the Forest” by Jon Buchan, “Leaving Tuscaloosa” by Walter Bennett, and “The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope” by Rhonda Riley. All the novels were prize-worthy, and picking a finalist was a tough task, McCorkle said. “It was spectacular reading,” she said.
Cash, a North Carolina native, recently moved to Wilmington, where he lives with his wife. He told the crowd this week that he sold his first short story when he was an undergraduate. The next acceptance letter did not come until 11 years later. “I think writing is a process of telling yourself every day that I can do this,” Cash said. “I know this is a Southern book prize, not a North Carolina book prize,” he said. “But tonight it feels like a North Carolina book prize,” he said. Other North Carolina authors who attended the event were Bland Simpson, Lee Smith and Daniel Wallace.
Cash’s second novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy,” will be published later this month. 
The prize honors an exceptional debut novel set in the American South. The Crook’s Corner Book Prize Foundation reached out to large and small publishers, as well as books that were self-published. All books chosen had to be in paper editions, not e-books, said Anna Hayes, founder and president of the foundation.
The book prize is “an idea we stole from the French literary cafes,” Hayes said, hence the addition of wine as part of the prize. The prize also draws from the tradition of first novels by Southern writers which have become American classics, among them Truman Capote’s “Other Voices, Other Rooms” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” and seeks to honor a new generation of first-time novelists.
During her presentation speech, Hayes cited the legacy of the late Bill Neal, who founded Crook’s Corner restaurant and was the author of several books (“Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking,” “Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie”). “Crook’s Corner seemed like the perfect partner,” Hayes said. In addition to Neal’s legacy, “writers love Crook’s,” she said.
UNC professor and author Randall Kenan (“Let the Dead Bury Their Dead,” “The Fire This Time”) will judge the next prize, to be issued in 2015. Submissions from publishers and writers are now open.