Minrose Gwin, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas, is the Fiction winner for The Accidentals. She is a native of Tupelo. One reviewer called The Accidentals “the most powerful and also the most lyrical novel about race, racism, and denial in the American South since To Kill a Mockingbird.” Another said that Gwin is “one of this generation’s great novelists.”
Gwin has been a writer all of her working life, starting out as a newspaper and wire service reporter and worked in Mobile, Atlanta, Nashville, and Knoxville. As an undergraduate, she attended Mississippi University for Women and the University of Tennessee. Since receiving her PhD at the University of Tennessee, she has taught at universities across the country, most recently the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and led creative writing workshops at the University of New Mexico Writers’ Conference in Taos and Santa Fe. Her first novel, The Queen of Palmyra, was chosen a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick, a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, and an IndieBound Notable Book. Her second novel, Promise, was shortlisted for the Willie Morris Award in Southern Literature. She is coeditor of The Literature of the American South, a Norton anthology.
I’m honored and moved by this recognition of my novel The Accidentals by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. The great Mississippi writer Eudora Welty has written that location is the “heart’s field” of any story. My “heart’s field” has always been Mississippi, and telling some of her stories has been my life’s work, whether in cultural and literary studies, memoir, or fiction. So this award has special meaning for me, not only as a fiction writer who is also a Mississippian, but as someone who has both loved and struggled with Mississippi since I came of age. She has been a character in all my writings.
Right now, as we face these difficult days in our country, Mississippi speaks to me more than ever, and one thing she tells me is that art continues to be crucial in the struggle to attain a world in which everyone’s humanity is valued and justice guides our laws and their enforcement. Mississippi writers like Elizabeth Spencer, Richard Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Jesmyn Ward, and Ellen Douglas have always spoken truth to power, and their books still do. They and many other writers, artists, and musicians from my home state inspire and challenge me as a Mississippian to try my best to create work that evokes empathy and exposes injustice, that tills the “heart’s field” and sows seeds that can, at long last, grow. Thank you for this honor.
Fiction judge Pam Houston wrote, “The book engaged me on the first page, and my attention never wavered. I loved all the things Gwin did with the birds, and with the word accidental. I loved that pretty much all the characters were more or less bisexual. I felt like the book, probably not coincidentally, took us back to another time when we felt as though we were judging all our actions by the measure, What if this was the last thing I ever did?, because powerful men were making bad decisions behind closed doors. I also loved the way it was about forgiveness, over and over and over again.”
Pam Houston is the author of the memoir Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country. She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is professor of English at University of California–Davis, and is cofounder and creative director of the literary nonprofit Writing by Writers.