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Deb Olin Unferth takes Cabell First Novelist Award

August 15, 2009 |  6:10 am

Vacation_unferth Deb Olin Unferth has won the 2009 Cabell First Novelist Award for "Vacation" (McSweeney's Press) from Virginia Commonwealth University, which comes with bragging rights and $5,000.

Although judging of literary contests is often held in the hands of the few, a large number of readers helped in the selection process -- about 100 readers from both the university and the broader Richmond community, where VCU is located, were involved.

In a 2007 interview with Bookslut, Unferth -- who had recently been part of a short fiction project with Dave Eggers and Sarah Manguso -- talked about why she writes.

I think what drives me the most are desire and fear. I think: I want to write this book. I can see it in my mind, it's perfectly formed, the structure is sound. It's like an apple, it's like something in nature. Why can't I get it to look the same on the page? Why? So bewilderment is part of it too, I guess. And stubbornness. 

And also I'm afraid of what will happen to me if I don't write the book. Some days I feel like my life is completely empty. Writing is the only thing that seems to bring meaning to my life and without it I would be facing this black hole. A more cynical interpretation might be to say that it's not that writing is meaningful, just distracting, but to me that doesn't usually feel true. 

I have never written out of boredom or for money (ha! money! that's a good one). I have written, not out of happiness exactly, but for pleasure. Sometimes it is relieving to write.

This November, VCU will hold a two-day First Novelist Festival. Unferth will read from her work, and panels will discuss publishing and writing. Where people can commisserate about the relief of writing.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image credit: McSweeney's