Dawnie Walton Wins the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

July 1, 2022

cover Final Revival of Opal and NevDawnie Walton has won the 2022 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during the preceding calendar year. Her winning book, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, published by Simon & Schuster.  Walton will receive the award during a public event at VCU on November 10, 2022. The event will involve a reading, a moderated discussion, and a Q&A. Details of the event and additional materials will be made available at www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/event/.

Walton was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its 21st year. The other finalists were Kirstin Valdez Quade for The Five Wounds and Daniel Loedel for Hades, Argentina.

The New York Times Book Review says the book “Feels truer and more mesmerizing than some true stories. It’s a packed time capsule that doubles as a stick of dynamite.” And Ta-Nehisi Coates calls it “One of the most immersive novels I’ve ever read…largely because of Walton’s skill at letting so many people talk in so many different ways. Voices are marshalled from across America, and then across the Atlantic, and blended seamlessly into a tale about Black culture, Black women, and American capitalism. This is a thrilling work of polyphony—a first novel that reads like the work of an old hand.”

Dawnie Walton’s work explores identity, place, and the influence of pop culture. Formerly an editor at Essence and Entertainment Weekly, she has received fellowships from MacDowell and Tin House, and holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award celebrates the VCU MFA in Creative Writing program’s year long novel workshop, the first in the nation and one of the few still in existence. The winning author receives a $5,000 prize and participates in an event, traditionally in person, with two additional panelists, most often the agent and editor of the winning book. The event, open to all, focuses on the creation, publication and promotion of the author's first novel.

The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is presented on behalf of VCU’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. Sponsors include: the James Branch Cabell Library Associates, VCU Libraries, the VCU Department of English, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

Nearly 200 novels were submitted for this year’s prize. A university-wide panel of readers in addition to members of the Richmond community reduced the submissions to a Top 20 Long List. From there, the Long List was considered by the MFA in Creative Writing students, who further narrowed the submissions from a Top 10 Short List to 3 Finalists. The final round of judging included the MFA students, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Committee, and the winner of the previous year’s award.

In addition to Walton, previous winners of the award have included: Raven Leilani for Luster, John Englehardt for Bloomland, Ling Ma for Severance, Hernán Diaz for In the Distance, Jade Chang for The Wangs vs. the World and Angela Flournoy for The Turner House. A full list of winners can be found at www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/winners/.

 The 2023 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is soon to announce a “call for submissions” for debut novels published in 2022, with a final submission deadline of Dec. 30, 2022. For more information, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu