Meet Mesha Maren, Winner of The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize

Sometimes we come across news that suggests if you dig beyond the headlines, you'll find an encouraging level of excitement and unmet demand in the world of creative writing.

The headline in question comes to us from Asheville, North Carolina, where Mesha Maren, a writer from southern West Virgina, was named the winner of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize for her short story "Chokedamp." Maren was chosen out of 220 finalists, meaning her odds of winning were somewhere around 0.5 percent.

For a prize with such fierce competition, you'd think the payoff would be huge, right? Not so fast. Clearly, the prize pays tremendous dividends for Maren and past winners—we're giving them further notoriety and exposure in this here post, after all. But the the prize itself was born from modest means, much like Wolfe himself, the youngest of eight children and the son of a stone carver.

The prize is the brainchild of Tommy Hays and the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The Great Smokies Writing Program, which is a joint effort between the UNC Asheville departments of Literature and Language, Creative Writing, and the Office of Professional Education, offers "opportunities for writers of all levels to join a supportive learning community in which their skills and talents can be explored, practiced, and forged under the careful eye of professional writers."

Our point is simple. There isn't a deep-pocketed foundation behind the prize, which includes $1,000 and possible inclusion in the Thomas Wolfe Review. And yet 220 writers from all over the country applied anyway. From where I'm sitting, it seems to suggest that there's a whole lot of savvy writers out there doing their homework, even if the payoff isn't Earth-shattering (And I know what you're thinking—these savvy writers all probably bookmarked our Creative Writing vertical for consistent insight and analysis on creative writing grants and awards. Who can blame them?)

Maren's story was chosen by a single judge, Lee Smith, a New York Times bestselling author and longtime professor of creative writing at North Carolina State University. Smith was "impressed by the complexity of theme, situation, and the brothers’ relationship; the narrative voice rang true, and the writing was wonderful throughout.”

The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize opens for submissions annually on December 1 and runs through January 30. It is open to all writers, regardless of geographic location or prior publication. Submitted stories must be unpublished and not exceed twelve double-spaced pages.