Chapel Hill author may be drinking wine every night next year

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 11:39 AM

How would you like to win a free glass of wine at Crook’s Corner every day for a year? Or would you rather win a $1,000 in cash?
Well, the winner of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize is going to get both these prizes. And when the winner is announced Jan. 6, it could be one of our Chapel Hill neighbors.
The Crook’s Prize is new this year and it will honor “an exceptional debut novel set in the South.”
“It was exciting to find so many great books -- several of them from independent publishers (even micro-publishers) -- emerging from our reading,” said Chapel Hill’s Anna Hayes, founder and president of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize Foundation, at the announcement last month of the four finalists for the initial award. My wife, Harriet, has enjoyed working with the foundation on the prize project.
The finalists are “Code of the Forest,” by Jon Buchan; “A Land More Kind than Home,” by Wiley Cash; “The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope,” by Rhonda Riley; and “Leaving Tuscaloosa,” by Chapel Hill’s Walter Bennett.
Popular Hillsborough author Jill McCorkle will make the final selection. McCorkle made history in 1984 when Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, which had been recently founded by the late Louis Rubin, published her two debut novels simultaneously. Her many fans enthusiastically welcomed her latest novel, “Life after Life,” when it came out earlier this year.
Chapel Hill’s contender for the prize, Walter Bennett, is a former lawyer, judge, and law teacher. To some he is better known as the husband of N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences former director, Betsy Bennett. He will talk about his book on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch at noon today.
Bennett set his novel in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama. It is the 1960s, and the established segregated social order is about to be ripped apart.
The two main characters are teenage boys who had played together when they were younger. As they grew older, they went to segregated schools and lost contact, even as they walked the same streets in their hometown. In the opening scene, the white boy, oddly named Richeboux, drives into the black section of town with a group of his schoolmates and throws an egg into the head of a pastor and community leader. The pastor is the mentor and substitute father of the main black character, Acee Waites.
The pastor’s panic and anger at this humiliating attack leads to a fatal heart attack that sets off 36 hours of turmoil in the community, in the lives of the main characters, and in their families as the plot drives the two boys cascading towards a tragic reconnection.
Bennett ‘s book faces stiff competition from Buchan’s novel about the corruption of political power and friendships; Cash’s powerful story of a little boy whose life is torn apart by the actions of an egotistical snake handling preacher, and Riley’s fantastical love story.
I am going to be nice to all of them, hoping the ultimate winner will, every now and then, share with me a sip or two of the daily serving of wine that is part of the Crook’s Corner prize.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.