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Angela Flournoy wins VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for ‘The Turner House’

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Angela Flournoy.

Angela Flournoy has won the 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. Her winning book, “The Turner House,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, tells the story of 13 adult siblings forced to reckon with their complex relationships and the deterioration of their east side Detroit neighborhood when their aging mother has to sell the family home.

Flournoy will receive the award Nov. 17 at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she will give a reading and participate in a roundtable discussion with VCU students and the public. The event will be held in the Cabell Library Lecture Hall (Room 303) at 7 p.m. For additional details, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/event/.

“The Turner House
“The Turner House" by Angela Flournoy.

Flournoy was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its 15th year. The other finalists were Tom Cooper for “The Marauders” and Erika Krouse for “Contenders.”

“The Turner House” is the story of an unforgettable family in the throes of transition. Set in a once vibrant Detroit neighborhood, Flournoy’s outstanding debut novel covers five decades in the life of Viola and Francis Turner and their 13 children. The novel opens in 2008, the Turner children grown, the family home on Yarrow Street standing empty. Francis has long since passed, and matriarch Viola is suffering from age-related illness and must move in with her oldest son Cha-cha. As he wrestles with integrating his mother with his own family, Cha-cha is troubled by what he vehemently believes is a ghost haunting the Turner house. The abandoned house soon acquires a second lost soul when youngest daughter Lela, homeless because of her gambling addiction, secretly takes residence. Tensions mount as it becomes clear Viola must sell the old house, now worth one-tenth of what is owed, and all the Turner children are called home to make difficult decisions. With spare, powerful prose, Flournoy tells the saga of an American family, set against the backdrop of a great city in decline.

A National Book Award Finalist and a New York Times Editor’s Choice, “The Turner House” has received wide critical acclaim. The Washington Post calls it “an elegant and assured debut.” The New York Times says Flournoy “provides the feeling of knowing a family from the inside out, as we would wish to know our own.” Christina Garcia, author of “Dreaming in Cuban” and “King of Cuba,” lauds “The Turner House,” calling it “as compelling, unforgettable, and beautifully told a story as I’ve read in ages. The real and the supernatural, the hardships and hard-won triumphs of the tightly knit, at times warring Turner clan will pull you close to this family’s generous, dignified heart.”

The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award celebrates the VCU MFA in Creative Writing Program’s yearlong novel workshop, the first in the nation and one of the few still in existence. The winning author receives a $5,000 cash prize. Travel expenses and lodging are also provided for the author and her agent, who will attend an evening of events that focus on the creation, publication and promotion of this year’s winning novel. Co-sponsors of the award and activities are the VCU Department of English, the VCU MFA Program in Creative WritingVCU Libraries, the James Branch Cabell Library Associates, the Friends of VCU Libraries, the VCU Honors College, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and Barnes & Noble @ VCU.

One-hundred-and-sixty-two novels were submitted for this year’s prize. A universitywide panel of readers, in addition to members of the Richmond community, reduced the list to 12 semifinalists and ultimately three finalists. The finalists were then considered by a panel of judges consisting of Boris Fishman, winner of the 2015 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for “A Replacement Life;” Allison Titus, poet, author and recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; and Lidia Yuknavitch, novelist and author of the memoir “The Chronology of Water.”

In addition to Fishman, previous winners of the award have included Helene Wecker for “The Golem and the Jinni,” Ramona Ausubel for “No One Is Here Except All of Us,” Justin Torres for “We the Animals,” David Gordon for “The Serialist,” Victor Lodato for “Mathilda Savitch,” Deb Olin Unferth for “Vacation,” Travis Holland for “The Archivist’s Story,” Peter Orner for “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo,” Karen Fisher for “A Sudden Country,” Lorraine Adams for “Harbor,” Michael Byers for “Long for This World,” Isabel Zuber for “Salt” and Maribeth Fischer for “The Language of Good-bye.”

The deadline for the 2017 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is Sept. 14 for books published January through June 2016. For books published July through December 2016, the deadline is Jan. 14, 2017. For more information, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.