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Clark Fiction Prize Winners


2017 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

2017 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.


2016 Award Winner: Jim Shepard

Jim Shepard
Photo credit: Barry Goldstein

The winner of the 2016 Clark Fiction Prize is Jim Shepard, for his novel The Book of Aron. Shepard is the author of seven novels and four story collections, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won The Story Prize. Five of his short stories have been chosen for the Best American Short Stories, two for the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and one for a Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Williams College.

The Book of Aron

In The Book of Aron, Shepard explores the troubled life of Aron, a small, sullen 8-year-old whose family moves from a rural Polish village to hectic Warsaw in search of a better life. His family’s hopes for the future crumble as the occupying German government imposes harsh restrictions. Officially confined to the Jewish quarter, with hunger, vermin, disease and death all around, everyone for whom Aron cared is stripped away from him. Alone, his only hope lies with Janusz Korczak, the renowned doctor, children’s rights advocate, and radio host who runs a Jewish orphanage. And Korczak in turn awakens the lost humanity inside the boy.

Cristina Garcia
Photo credit: Norma I. Quintana

2016 judge, novelist Cristina García, is the author of the National Book Award finalist Dreaming in Cuban and a former Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at Texas State.