Boris Fishman wins the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for 'A Replacement Life'

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Boris Fishman has won the 2015 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. His winning book, A Replacement Life, published by Harper Collins, tells the story of a young Jewish writer whose life spirals out of control when he begins helping his community forge Holocaust reparation claims.  

Fishman will receive the award on Nov. 10 at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he will give a reading and participate in a roundtable and discussion with VCU students and the public. The event will be held at 7 p.m. in the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, located at 922 Park Avenue, Richmond, Virginia.

For additional details, visit Fishman was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its 14th year. The other finalists were Celeste Ng for Everything I Never Told You and Rebecca Rotert for Last Night at the Blue Angel.

A Replacement Life is the story of Slava Gelman, a young Jewish-American magazine editor living in Brooklyn. When his grandmother — a Holocaust survivor — dies at the same time a letter arrives from the German government offering restitution, he is asked by his grandfather to take her story and forge an application on his behalf. Reluctantly, Slava agrees, and before long it seems that the entire Jewish community is at his door in search of similar services. As his clientele grows, it soon becomes clear that the only life Slava has trouble amending is his own. Vibrant, incisive, darkly funny, A Replacement Life is a testament to the weight of history — and our need to carry it with us.

"A Replacement Life" by Boris Fishman
"A Replacement Life" by Boris Fishman

A Replacement Life is the subject of wide critical acclaim. Author Joyce Carol Oates calls it a beautifully nuanced, tender, and often very funny novel about conscience and familial loyalty that will linger long in the memory. The Guardian’s Phoebe Taplin lauds it as “an elegy for loss (of families, health, sanity) and a plea for compassion [that] raises serious questions about identity and history.”

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 the authors agent to attend an evening of events that focus on the creation, publication and promotion of each year’s winning novel. 

Co-sponsors of the award and activities are the VCU Department of English, the VCU MFA Program in Creative Writing, the James Branch Cabell Library Associates, the VCU Friends of the Library, VCU Libraries, the VCU Honors College, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and Barnes & Noble @ VCU.

More than 150 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 Helene Wecker, winner of the 2014 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for The Golem and the Jinni; Howard Owen, author of 10 novels and business editor of The Free Lance-Star; and Gary Schanbacher, winner of the Colorado Book Award, the High Plains First Book Award and the Eric Hoffer General Fiction Award.

In addition to Wecker, previous winners of the award have included 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 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is Sept. 14 for books published January through June 2015. For books published July through December 2015, the deadline is Jan. 14, 2016. For more information, visit


About VCU and the VCU Medical Center
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 222 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see