Hanna Pylvainen has been awarded the Balcones Fiction Prize for We Sinners, which final judge the acclaimed novelist Sarah Bird called a “stunningly assured debut novel.”
This is the third year for Austin Community College to offer the $1,500 which also comes with a trip to Austin for a reading. The national award goes to the best book of literature published in the previous calendar year. A record 101 books were nominated for the prize.
ACC is unique among community colleges in offering a national book award. The college having a separate creative writing department is also a rarity.
Pylvainen is from suburban Detroit. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was also a Zell Postgraduate Fellow. She is the recipient of residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a 2012 Whiting Writers’ Award.
Bird said of awarding We Sinners (Henry Holt), “Pylvainen takes us inside an obscure Finnish fundamentalist denomination that is both Bible–Belt familiar and utterly exotic. At its heart, it’s an examination of family and faith, and the sorrows that ensue when belonging and believing become one and the same. In the light of Pylvainen’s austerely beautiful prose each of the eleven family members portrayed shines with surprising profundity that reminds us of the uniquely illuminating power of fiction.”
At Bird’s request, Margaret Hermes received a special second-place award for her story collection Relative Strangers (Carolina Wren Press) and its “lightning strikes of illumination.” Bird said of the book, “Hermes examines the pivot points in lives just beginning and those viewed retrospectively with longing and regret. Innocence and experience battle as the vibrantly alive characters pick their way through world that, in lesser hands, would be humdrum. Hermes makes us see again that each ordinary day is a minefield filled with choices that, sometimes, detonate decades later.”
The other finalists for the Balcones Fiction Prize are:
- Sighs Too Deep for Words by William Jack Sibley (William Jack Sibley)
- Slant of Light by Steve Wiegenstein (Blank Slate Press)
- The Galaxie and Other Rides by Josie Sigler (Livington Press)
- The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Dianna Wagman (IG Publishing)
- Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream (William Morrow)
The deadline for the 2013 Balcones Fiction Prize is January 31, 2014. For more information, see: