Novel on Young Thoreau Wins Merc Prize

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Posted 11.12.09 by Prize Reporter

On Monday the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction named John Pipkin of Austin, Texas, winner of the 2009 First Novel Prize for Woodsburner (Nan A. Talese). He was awarded ten thousand dollars at the organization's annual benefit dinner held in New York City.

Pipkin's novel, which the Times-Picayune says evokes "a vision of a younger America poised at a moment of self-definition," centers on the forest fire accidentally set by Henry David Thoreau a year before he went to live at Walden Pond. In the award announcement, the Center for Fiction says that the book "offers a beautifully nuanced portrait of a young and less recognizable Thoreau, whose philosophy begins to materialize as the flames lay waste."

The finalists for this year's award were Paul Harding for Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press), Yiyun Li for The Vagrants (Random House), Philipp Meyer for American Rust (Spiegel & Grau), and Patrick Somerville for The Cradle (Little, Brown).

Previous winners of the prize, given since 2006 and formerly known as the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, are Marisha Pessl for Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Viking, 2006), Junot Díaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead, 2007), and Hannah Tinti for The Good Thief (Dial Press, 2008).