North Street Book Prize 2017
Honoring the best self-published books in general fiction, young adult fiction, and creative nonfiction
First Prize $1,500 Young Adult Fiction
Nicole Evelina, Daughter of Destiny
First Prize $1,500 Fiction
Alesa Lightbourne, The Kurdish Bike
First Prize $1,500
Paul Thornton, White Man’s Disease
Honorable Mention $250
- Cynthia Harris-Allen, The Cricket Cries, the Year Changes, Fiction
- Imani Josey, The Blazing Star, Young Adult Fiction
- Robbi Pounds, Rubble Fever, Creative Nonfiction
- Robin Reardon, Waiting for Walker, Young Adult Fiction
- Patricia Rohner, Tzippy the Thief, Fiction
- D.B. Sieders, Lorelei’s Lyric, Fiction
- Michael H. Ward, The Sea Is Quiet Tonight, Creative Nonfiction
Thanks to everyone who competed for our third annual North Street Book Prize for self-published books of fiction, memoir, and creative nonfiction. We received 378 entries. The self-publishing market includes many well-written books that entertain and educate. We're happy to boost these hard-working authors.
Once again, our first-round screening was conducted by literary scholar Annie Keithline and editor and social worker Lauren Singer Ledoux, who presented final judges Jendi Reiter and Ellen LaFleche with a shortlist of about 50 books. Jendi and Ellen read significant portions of each shortlisted book, swapped favorites for a full read-through, and had several lively debates at the local brew pub to come up with this year's winners and finalists.
Our contest categories continue to evolve based on the entry pool. In the previous year, we had enough crossover entries that we decided to combine Genre/Commercial and Literary Fiction into a General Fiction category this year, and break out Young Adult for its own prize. However, genre boundaries in the 2017 entries ended up being more clean-cut, and some entries that would have fared well in a separate Genre/Commercial category were hard to judge against literary novels with complex characterization. Since our goal is to help authors target their books to the most receptive audience, we will restore the distinction between literary and genre fiction in 2018. Also, by popular demand, we're adding Poetry and Children's Picture Books. The Creative Nonfiction & Memoir category will remain unchanged.
We saw promising results from our diversity outreach to writers' groups and universities, with more entries by and about nonwhite and LGBTQ people. Our winners and finalists represent a fascinating variety of perspectives, with narratives about slaves on a Georgia plantation, priestesses in fifth-century Britain, teachers at an international school in Kurdish Iraq, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and the wealthy Jewish families of Palm Beach, to name just a few.
Medical memoirs were popular this year, as were books about Islam and Americans' perceptions thereof. In Young Adult Fiction, paranormal and historical novels continue to be popular trends. While we enjoy these genres, we'd also like to see more contemporary realistic narratives for the sake of variety.
Sexual objectification of women prevented several male authors' shortlisted books from advancing further. It's not realistic or necessary to describe all the significant female characters in terms of their sexual attractiveness or availability to men. Don't linger on descriptions of women's “tits and ass” when male characters are not similarly sexualized. Thrillers about men and women working together don't always have to include a romantic subplot, especially when the female partner in the romance is the only woman on the team.
Queer erasure was another sticking point for the judges. When your story features a single-gender community, like a religious order or a boarding school, stop and reflect on our culture's heteronormative assumptions, and take out those throwaway lines about how “all” of the priestesses, mermaids, intergalactic soldiers, etc. crave different-gender sexual partners. You don't have to change anything about your main characters or plot. Just ask yourself why it's easier to picture a world with dragons than one with asexual, lesbian, or bi people. It's a small but pivotal part of world-building that determines whether your book is hurtful or welcoming to all readers.
Structurally, the most successful novels and memoirs focused on a crucial time period in the characters' lives, contextualizing the main narrative arc with carefully selected flashbacks. Stories with longer time spans often lost focus and didn't orient the reader with enough date markers when the story shifted to a different year and location.
Most of the books could have used a last round of edits to eliminate typos and 15-25% of unnecessary content. You've worked so hard on your book, please invest that extra few hundred dollars to hire a professional editor, or do an editing swap with a keen-eyed fellow author. We judge the books as finished products for sale, not as manuscripts.
Paul Thornton took First Prize in Creative Nonfiction for White Man's Disease, his memoir about recovery from a brain tumor at age 29. Thornton combines an everyman's straightforward voice and good humor with an expert level of detail about brain surgery and life with a disability. His story is also a case study of African-American entrepreneurship and business integration, from his childhood in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy projects, to his rise as a financial analyst at DuPont Chemical, and then to his post-surgery second career as one of the first successful video store chain owners when VCRs transformed home entertainment.
Honorable Mentions in Creative Nonfiction went to Robbi Pounds' Rubble Fever, a vivid account of surviving Hurricane Katrina shortly after her parents' deaths, and a meditation on the different ways one can lose one's sense of “home”; and Michael Ward's The Sea Is Quiet Tonight, a lyrical and politically significant love story about losing his partner during the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic.
Alesa Lightbourne won First Prize in General Fiction for The Kurdish Bike, a richly textured and insightful autobiographical novel about a white American woman, fresh out of a painful and expensive divorce, who takes a teaching job at an international school in Kurdish Iraq. The narrator goes against custom by making friends with a village family, and discovers a female solidarity that crosses lines of class, education, and language. Serious issues such as female genital mutilation are leavened by humor about the absurdities of school bureaucracy.
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction went to Cynthia Harris-Allen's The Cricket Cries, the Year Changes, an intense novel-in-stories about slaves on a Georgia plantation and their daring strategies for resistance; Patricia Rohner's Tzippy the Thief, a comedy-drama of manners about a wealthy Jewish widow in Palm Beach who radically rethinks her life at age 80; and D.B. Sieders' Lorelei's Lyric, a charming paranormal romance between a drug-addicted rock musician and a Rhinemaiden mermaid on holiday in Nashville.
Nicole Evelina won First Prize in Young Adult Fiction for Daughter of Destiny, the first book in a planned series retelling the legend of King Arthur from Queen Guinevere's point of view. In the tradition of Marion Zimmer Bradley's classic The Mists of Avalon, Evelina lovingly reconstructs (or imagines) the earth-centered, woman-led spiritual traditions that Christianity suppressed in the British Isles, and paints a sympathetic picture of young noblewomen's struggles to be more than pawns in clan warfare.
Honorable Mentions in Young Adult Fiction went to Imani Josey's The Blazing Star, a paranormal adventure about black high school girls transported to ancient Egypt by a magical artifact; and Robin Reardon's Waiting for Walker, a gay coming-of-age romance with an intersex love interest and a subplot about being Muslim in America.
We would like to recognize and encourage these finalists:
- Arjay Lewis, Fire in the Mind
- Susan Harrison Rashid, Beneath a Shooting Star
- Steven Schlozman, Smoke Above Treeline
- Vanda, Juliana
Creative Nonfiction and Memoir
- Doug Piotter, Fixed: Dope Sacks, Dye Packs and the Long Welcome Back
- Susan Tereba, Piece by Piece
Jendi Reiter is vice president of Winning Writers, editor of The Best Free Literary Contests, and oversees the Winning Writers literary contests. Jendi is the author of the short story collection An Incomplete List of My Wishes (Sunshot Press, forthcoming 2018), the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016), the poetry collections Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2015) and A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), and the award-winning poetry chapbooks Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press, 2010). Awards include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists' Grant for Poetry, the 2016 New Letters Prize for Fiction, the 2016 Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction, the 2015 Wag's Revue Poetry Prize, the 2013 Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize, the 2012 Betsy Colquitt Award for Poetry from Descant magazine, the 2011 James Knudsen Editor's Prize in Fiction from Bayou Magazine, the 2011 OSA Enizagam Award for Fiction, the 2010 Anderbo Poetry Prize, and second prize in the 2010 Iowa Review Awards for Fiction. Jendi's work has appeared in Poetry, The New Criterion, Mudfish, Passages North, Cutthroat, Best American Poetry 1990, and many other publications.
Ellen LaFleche is a judge of our North Street Book Prize. She has worked as a journalist and women's health educator in Western Massachusetts. Her manuscript, Workers' Rites, won the Philbrick Poetry Award from the Providence Athenaeum and was published as a chapbook in 2011. Another chapbook, Ovarian, was published in 2011 by the Dallas Poets Community Press, and a third chapbook, Beatrice, about a semi-cloistered nun, was published in 2012 by Tiger's Eye Press. Her poems have been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, New Millennium Writings, The Ledge, Alligator Juniper, Many Mountains Moving, Harpur Palate, Southeast Review, and Naugatuck River Review, among many others. Prose credits include her 2014 Daily Hampshire Gazette article “Taken too soon, at 65: My husband John Clobridge's final days with ALS” and the essay “Happily Ever After” about dealing with diabetes through fairy tale poetry, which appeared in Wordgathering, the online journal of disability poetics. She also reviews books for Wordgathering. She has won the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize (shared with Jim Glenn Thatcher), the DASH Poetry Journal Prize, the Poets on Parnassus Prize for poetry about the medical experience, second prize in The Ledge Poetry Awards, and the Editor's Choice Award for Poetry from Writecorner Press.
Lauren Singer Ledoux
Lauren Singer Ledoux is an assistant judge of the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest and the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest, and a past judge of the North Street Book Prize. She is a native New Yorker living in Western Massachusetts. Her poetry has been published in Nerve House, Bareback, Feel the Word, Read This, Kosmosis, One Night Stanzas, and other literary magazines across the country. In 2015 she received her MSW at the University of Chicago, is a graduate of Bard College at Simon's Rock and an attendee of the New York State Summer Writer's Institute. She has self-published three chapbooks, and received an honorable mention in the 2011 Wergle Flomp contest. In addition to her creative interests, Lauren works as a mental health clinician and therapist in Holyoke, MA. Lauren prides herself on her wealth of useless knowledge, namely of nineties R&B lyrics, and she can pretty much quote “The X-Files”.
Annie Keithline assists with the judging of the North Street Book Prize. She specializes in odd jobs, having been an elevator operator, ghost tour guide, video store clerk, and pawnbroker. Starting in 2012 she spent twenty months walking 4,500 miles across the United States. Her writing has been published in Joseph Conrad Today, the official publication of the Joseph Conrad Society of America. Current projects include The Anchor and the Hourglass, a historical horror romance graphic novel set in her home state of Rhode Island.