Creative Writing Professor Captures Dzanc Prize for Fiction

Jessie van Eerden

Associate Professor of Creative Writing Jessie van Eerden has been named the winner of the 2019 Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction, recognizing daring, original, and innovative writing.

Call It Horses, van Eerden’s third novel, was selected from a pool of hundreds of manuscripts and eventually judged by three celebrated Dzanc Books authors: Lee Martin (The Mutual UFO Network, Late One Night), Peg Alford Pursell (A Girl Goes into the Forest), and John Englehart (Bloomland), winner of last year’s prize. The story centers on Frankie Donne and her aunt Mave, who embark in 1990 on a road trip from West Virginia to New Mexico. Mave is running from her cancer treatments, while Frankie is trying to escape from a loveless marriage, fresh sorrow over a miscarriage, and years of grief over abandonment by her true love, Dillon. They reluctantly agree to take on a third passenger: Dillon’s new wife, Nan, who has her own reasons for fleeing west.

“I was so moved by this book, I sobbed at the end,” said Pursell. “And the language! What a gifted author.” Englehart stated, “Filled with poetry, working-class grit, and undogmatic spirituality, this novel shows us what we gain when we become outlaws in our own lives.” Martin added, “The final scene is one I’ll remember always.”

“This novel has been a long journey, several years of exploring the story of spiritual liminality experienced by a woman standing just outside of fulfillment,” van Eerden said. Of winning the prize she noted, “I’m grateful to all the readers of this manuscript, to those who came alongside me to read early drafts and to the editors and judges who read for the prize, for the ways each reader has helped to usher these characters into the world. And, I’m honored to have this opportunity to work with a press with such a commitment to artful, attentive fiction.”

Glorybound (WordFarm, 2012), winner of the Foreword Editor’s Choice Fiction Prize, and My Radio Radio (Vandalia Press, 2016), selected for the Top 10 of 2016 by Image Journal, are van Eerden’s two previous novels. Her portrait essay collection, The Long Weeping (Orison Books, 2017), won the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award.

Dzanc Books is a nonprofit organization committed to producing quality literary works and providing creative writing instruction in public schools through the Dzanc Writers-in-Residence program. It also offers low-cost workshops for aspiring authors.