John Bennion has been awarded the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Award for Avenging Saints. The award was announced at an April 21 event sponsored by Utah Valley University’s Department of English & Literature.
Associate Professor Jen Wahlquist, who is now administering the contest, graciously provided me with the text of the award citation (reproduced below).
This is the sixth time the award has been given out. Previous winners include Jack Harrel’s Vernal Promises (published by Signature Books), Mormonville by Jeff Call (published by Cedar Fort), House Dreams by Janean Justham (unpublished?), The Coming of Elijah by Arianne Cope (Parables Publishing), and Rift by Todd Robert Petersen (forthcoming from Zarahemla Books).
The Association for Mormon Letters is still involved in the award to a certain extent
Although the AML was involved in awards process for the first five winners, the funding for the contest now resides with UVU (link is to a PowerPoint), and it is now going to be given out annually (links to PDF file). For those unfamiliar with the long and varied creative career of Marilyn Brown, here’s a link to her Mormon Literature Database entry. In particular, I would recommend here novel House on the Sound.
More on John Bennion:
If the first stewardship of the storyteller is to capture the song that arises from a land and its people, then John Bennion well deserves the title of storyteller, for he has truly captured the music echoing from Utah’s past. Avenging Saint is set in the hard west-desert country of Rush Valley, Utah with its roots deep among the first generations of European Mormons there. The narrative voice is rare in its objective lensing, and the main characters (Rachel and her stepfather, J.D.) are equally rare in their complexity; they are unapologetically delineated, multifaceted products of their upheaved culture, which nonetheless they traverse with astuteness, unexpected grace, and courage. Their language is reticent, the grounds for communication sparse, but as they merge their solo parts into the occasional disharmonious duet, they find infinite chance to learn, grow, and shape their world.
John Bennion’s skill of composing vivid descriptions initially draws in the reader, who is then quickly caught up in the plot’s rapid tempo as mystery beckons. Rachel says, A gong sounded ahead of us in [the town of] Centre. The sound was not sweet like the ringing of a bell; this was someone laying hammer to a wheel rim or piece of scrap iron. It clanged again and again, then after a pause, thrice more. The pattern repeated–three gongs and a pause, three gongs again, clearly some kind of signal. In all our visits to Centre, I’d never heard the sound before.
Mystery becomes conflict and conflict crescendos to a climactic revelation of murder as federal deputies encounter the stubborn resistance of polygamous Mormonite men and their loyal families, all of whom eventually find themselves beholden to Rachel’s strength and common sense.
To honor his skill in creating a taut-paced novel that leaves readers not only compelled to finish, but yearning for an encore, the Utah Valley University Department of English & Literature is proud to present the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Award for 2009 to John Bennion for Avenging Saint.
Dated this 21st day of April, 2009
NOTE: This post was corrected May 12 p.m. — see comment #9 below.