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.
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.
The Clark Prize Committee solicits nominations from distinguished writers around the country. No applications or unsolicited nominations for the award are accepted.
2021 Prize Winner
Raven Leilani's novel, "Luster," has won the 2021 L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize. The prize of $25,000 is one of the largest literary awards in the United States.
Established at Texas State University in 2016 and administered by the Department of English, the prize is designed to recognize an exceptional, recently-published book-length work of fiction in celebration of the Clarks’ lifelong contributions to, and love for, literature and the arts.
Leilani and her work will be celebrated at an event at Texas State on April 8. The 2021 Clark Prize short list included the novels Temporary by Hilary Leichter, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw and Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. Nominations of works published in 2021 were solicited from 12 prominent writers on the condition of anonymity, and the permanent fiction faculty of the Texas State M.F.A. Program narrowed those nominations down to the short list.
Téa Obreht, Clark Prize final judge, author of The Tiger's Wife and the Texas State M.F.A. Program’s University Endowed Chair, praised Raven Leilani’s "unique ability to turn a moment, a scene, a sentence on its head, plunging her readers from humor to existential gloaming with incredible skill and speed, so that you don’t always realize you’ve gone from laughing to holding your breath. The effect is disquieting and delightful, the product of her sharp eye and singular voice."
In Luster, Edie is stumbling her way through her 20s—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home—though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows.
Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in one's own talent, and the unexpected influences encountered along the way.
Leilani's work has been published in Granta, The Yale Review and The Cut among other publications. Leilani is a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree, the recipient of the 2020 Kirkus Prize, VCU Cabell Prize, NBCC John Leonard Prize and Center for Fiction first novel prize. Leilani received her MFA from NYU and was an Axinn Foundation Writer-in-Residence. Luster is her first novel.