Josie Sigler of Portland, Ore., Wins 2015 James Jones First Novel Fellowship
The 24th Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship awarded first place and $10,000
to Josie Sigler of Portland, Ore., for her manuscript titled The Flying Sampietrini, a novel. The competition is co-sponsored by the Wilkes University Graduate Creative
Writing Program and the James Jones Literary Society.
First runner-up was Reed Johnson of Takoma Park, Md., for his novel Love in the Afterlife. Second runner-up was Crystal Hana Kim of Chicago, Ill., for her novel If You Leave Me. Each runner-up received $1,000. Jake Andrews of Iowa City, Iowa, received an honorable mention for his novel Fiat Vita.
The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress. This year’s competition drew 623 submissions.
Sigler’s novel, The Flying Sampietrini, tells the story of Celestino, a member of the corps of workers whose ancestors built St. Peter’s Basilica. For nearly five centuries, the men of his family have labored at dizzying heights and daunting depths to care for sacred objects and works of art. During the German occupation of Rome in World War II, Celestino must choose between protecting those works of art and saving the lives of a group of Jewish boys who’ve fallen under his care. Sixty years later, his granddaughter, Michela, an art historian and conservator living in New York City, has lost her lover in the bombing of the World Trade Center. While awaiting the birth of their first child, she finds a series of journals in which her grandfather has written his story.
Sigler is the author of The Galaxie and Other Rides, a collection of stories set largely in post-industrial Detroit. Her book of poems, living must bury, won the Motherwell Prize and was published by Fence Books. Her short work “The Compartment” garnered Gulf Coast’s Barthelme Prize. She has completed numerous writing residencies, including time at The Millay Colony for the Arts and the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Residency. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant. Sigler holds a dual doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California.
Johnson’s novel, Love in the Afterlife, is set in Leningrad during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vitaly Lazar, a university instructor of Marxism-Leninism, returns from a trip to discover he is now deceased—at least on paper. His ex-wife, Nina, has discovered a novel solution to dislodge him from the single room they still share in a tenement apartment: using an unidentified corpse in the morgue, she has him declared officially dead. When Nina is arrested on suspicion of murdering her ex-husband, Vitaly decides to set Nina free, working to prove to Soviet justice that he is still alive and to uncover the real identity of the dead man.
After spending eight years living in Russia, Johnson returned to the U.S. to get his master of fine arts in fiction at the University of Virginia, where he is currently a doctoral candidate and a John S. Lillard/Jefferson Fellow in Slavic languages and literature. His fiction, essays and translations have appeared in print in the New England Review, Meridian, the Virginia Quarterly Review and the Gettysburg Review, and online at Narrative and TheNew Yorker.
Kim’s novel, If You Leave Me, is a love story, a war story, and an incisive examination of one woman’s conflicting responsibilities and desires. As the Korean War rises, three teenagers find themselves refugees in the same makeshift village off the coastal city of Busan. Haemi, housebound with her mother and consumptive brother, is caught between her childhood friend Kyungwhan and his brash cousin Jisoo, newly arrived from Seoul. Against the backdrop of a nation’s destruction and rebirth, the trio’s paths separate and reconnect as they each struggle to find their place in a rapidly modernizing world.
Kim lives in Chicago and is working on her first novel. She is a development manager for the literary journal Apogee. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Columbia University, a master’s in education from Hunter College, and a master of fine arts in creative writing from Columbia University. She has received a waiter work-study scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and a Walker Foundation Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass.
Andrews’ novel, Fiat Vita, tells the story of three generations of the Jameson family. Drew and Esther worry as their adult son, Joseph, struggles with balancing his life as an Episcopal priest and his life with his wife, Lauren, and their son, Daniel. After Drew’s death from a terminal illness, the rift between Joseph and Lauren grows. Joseph and Lauren separate twice while Daniel is at university in England, but they reconcile both times. Daniel decides to remain abroad with his partner, Sophie, and attempts not to replicate his father’s failures. Just before an elderly Esther moves in with Lauren and Joseph, Lauren admits to Esther that she is having an affair, and Esther must decide if she should tell Joseph of the affair, or keep the secret for the sake of her legacy with Drew.
Andrews is a master of fine arts degree candidate at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author of Hermeneutics and the Church: In Dialogue with Augustine. His short story “Tu quoque” appeared in Carve Magazine, and he has published several academic articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Requests for guidelines for entering the annual James Jones competition should be sent, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to James Jones First Novel Fellowship, c/o The Graduate Creative Writing Department, Wilkes University, 84 West South Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The submission deadline for entries is March 15 of each year.