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The L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize

In honor of L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark, who devoted their lives to literature and generously supported the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at Texas State University, Texas State University’s English Department has established the $25,000 Clark Fiction Prize. The prize will be awarded annually to recognize an exceptional recently-published book-length work of fiction.

The Clarks

L.D. Clark (1922-2014) spent a long career as a professor of English at the University of Arizona, producing scholarship on D.H. Lawrence. He authored seven novels, three volumes of short fiction, and several works of nonfiction. His wife, LaVerne Harrell Clark (1929-2008), was a novelist, folklorist, and photographer. Her first book, They Sang for Horses, a study of Navajo and Apache horse mythology, won the University of Chicago Folklore Prize and has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as a classic in Native American studies. The book is currently in print from the University of Colorado Press. A later book, Keepers of the Earth, won the Best First Novel award from Western Writers of America. Dr. and Mrs. Clark were both members of the Texas Institute of Letters.

Our Process

The Clark Prize Committee solicits nominations from distinguished writers around the country. No applications or unsolicited nominations for the award are accepted.

Award Winner: Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead (Photo by Madeline Whitehead)

The winner of the 2017 Clark Fiction Prize is Colson Whitehead, for his novel The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead is the author of six novels, including Sag Harbor, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award; John Henry Days, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and The Intuitionist, which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; as well as two critically-acclaimed works of nonfiction, The Colossus of New York and The Noble Hustle. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and the Whiting Award. His latest novel, The Underground Railroad, has won the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, and the Clark Fiction Prize.

The Underground Railroad cover

The Underground Railroad, which has also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award, chronicles a young slave’s harrowing adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. In Whitehead’s conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. The protagonist, Cora, encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

Karen Russell

This year’s judge, Karen Russell, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, and a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship. Russell is the author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories, and Sleep Donation: A Novella.