The Michael Rubin Book Award Predicts Great Careers In Writing: A Look At Past Winners

While the writer’s life is generally occupied by glamour and celebrity, we all know that there are certain challenges, for example, finishing your book. Then there’s the smallish chore of getting it published.

In his debut collection, D.W. Lichtenberg proved his immense literary talent: The Ancient Book of Hip, released November 18, 2009, was the recipient of the 2009 Michael Rubin Book Award. Established in honor of beloved professor Michael Rubin, the award is funded by the San Francisco State University Creative Writing Program. The winning work is selected by an independent writer or editor and is published annually by Fourteen Hills Press. Each year the award alternates between books of poetry and fiction.

The honor of winning the Michael Rubin Book Award (MRBA) extends beyond publication. If part of the point of an award is to herald new talent, the Michael Rubin Book Award seems to predict future success as well. In winning the award, D.W. Lichtenberg joins a long list of recipients who, since winning, have continued to produce works of acclaim, and establish thriving writing lives.

Past recipients include Kate Small, who in 1999 won the Michael Rubin Book Award for The Gap in the Letter C, a “fierce, tender, reckless, precise, alarming, loveley, and unforgettable” collection of eleven short stories (says Michelle Carter). Along with the Michael Rubin Book Award, Small won the Lorian Hemingway prize, a Vogelstein Foundation grant, and in 2002 she received one of 21 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships for prose. Her work has appeared in Nimrod, Prism International, The Boston Review, The Madison Review, and in the anthology Best New American Voices, edited by Tobias Wolff.

Part of what makes Small’s writing so inspiring is the diversity of perspectives and experiences she delves into, and the places and ways she finds her inspiration. Among her more recent projects is Maximum Sunlight, inspired by three days at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC. “I watched people come and go,” she says, describing the project. “I became fascinated by the intimate, confrontational aspect of Maya Lin's Wall: one must go close to read its texts, and in so doing, face one's own reflection in the polished granite. The wall's visitor's are various, but published writing which explores their relationship with it, isn't. I hope that Mira, its speaker, will put some pressure on the phenomenon of 'compassion fatigue' in America.”

In 2009, Robin Romm published the memoir The Mercy Papers. It was the New York Times Editor’s Choice Book and it received an A grade from Entertainment Weekly. Her 2007 collection of stories The Mother Garden was a finalist for the PEN USA prize and won the Northern California Independent Booksellers Book of the Year Award. It all began in 2005, when she won the Michael Rubin Book Award for her first collection of stories, The Tilt, which acclaimed writer Brian Evenson described as “a startling first collection.” Many of the stories in The Tilt later appeared in The Mother Garden, her first major publication.

These days, Romm lives in New Mexico with her boyfriend and writer Don Waters, and their cattle dog, Mercy. She shares her wisdom and imparts her talents to her students in the MFA writing program at New Mexico State University. Readers can find more of her fabulous work in numerous national journals including Threepenny Review, One Story, and Tin House, as well as many anthologies.

Past winner Jenny Pritchett was twice honored in 2008: her debut collection, At or Near the Surface, won the 2008 Michael Rubin Book Award, judged by Tin House managing editor Holly MacArthur, and her story “Bugaboo” was selected by Steve Almond for the Best of the Web 2008 anthology from Dzanc Books. Her work has appeared in Southwest Review, Northwest Review, Boulevard, Salt Hill, and Fiction Attic. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Jenny lives and teaches here in San Francisco, offering classes available to the public at the Writing Salon.

Poet, playwright, writer and songwriter Elizabeth Treadwell won the 1997 MRBA for her work Eleanor Ramsey: the Queen of Cups. She has published seven books and seven chapbooks. Along with these prolific literary credentials, her work includes music and performance pieces. Treadwell wrote the lyrics for the song JoLynn, performed by Molly Symns and her band, co-wrote the lyrics for Yolanda with Paul Jackson, performed by Stiff Richards. She wrote the play La Gnossienne and co-authored the screenplay Nonstop with Carol Treadwell.

Stay tuned for a post about the Michael Rubin Book Award submission guidelines, an award open to the student body of San Francisco State University. Anticipate an early 2010 submission deadline. In the meantime, dive in and read some of the great writing from past award winners.

-Nina, Fourteen Hills staff

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