Current Winners – American Historical Fiction

The winner of the 2016 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction is Michele Moore for her The Cigar Factory (Univ. of South Carolina Press).

This marvelous debut traces the lives of two working class families in Charleston during the years 1917-1946. The families are similar in many ways: devout and practicing Roman Catholics, headed by matriarchs who work in the local cigar factory, both struggling mightily for survival in severely limited circumstances. Yet they are dissimilar in ways crucial for Charleston in these years: one family is black and the other white, they attend separate churches, the matriarchs work in the cigar factory in segregated tasks and floors, use different restrooms, and receive different wages. Union organization and a strike begin a growing awareness by these two women of each other’s existence and the similarities of their and their families’ lives.

The author describes the difficult lives of these two families, both joys and sorrows, with great sensitivity and beauty. Dialect in novels is tricky, but Moore employs the Gullah dialect selectively and in brief snippets, and in so doing does not detract from the ease of reading the novel but rather adds to its verisimilitude. – DJL, Sr.

The finalist for the 2016 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction is Chad Dundas for his Champion of the World (Putnam).

This debut novel portrays the world of American wrestling in the 1920s, when wrestling was more science than show. In lively and economic prose, Chad Dundas narrates the briefly lived comeback of former wrestling champion-turned carnival performer Pepper Van Dean and his card-shark wife who negotiate bootleggers, ruthless carnival owners, and the rise of professional wrestling. At the centre of the novel is a fictional match between the reigning champion and an underdog contender. Dundas’s training as a sports journalist shines through in the suspense of his scenes, in and out of the ring. Furthermore, the characters and the historical setting are vividly realized. – VL

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