The Clark Fiction Prize was established by Texas State University in 2016

“. . . a big, ambitious novel in the best American tradition that portrays the interior life with rare subtlety and nuance, and at the same time captures a crucial era in our collective history.”

 

Rebecca Makkai’s novel, The Great Believers, has won the 2019 L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize. The prize of $25,000 is one of the largest literary awards in the United States.

 

Established at Texas State University in 2016 and administered by the Department of English, the prize is designed to recognize an exceptional, recently published book-length work of fiction in celebration of the Clarks’ lifelong contributions to, and love for, literature and the arts.

 

Makkai will be honored March 5 during the 2020 Association of Writers and Writing Program Conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.

 

Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, former Texas State MFA endowed chair, and Clark Prize final judge described The Great Believers as “a big, ambitious novel in the best American tradition that portrays the interior life with rare subtlety and nuance, and at the same time captures a crucial era in our collective history.”

 

The Great Believers is a novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy. It opens in1985, where Yale Tishman, the development director for a Chicago art gallery, is about to pull off a coup, bringing an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings.

 

Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself.

 

Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS crisis affected her life and her relationship with her daughter.

 

Yale and Fiona’s intertwining stories take readers through the heartbreak of the Eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

 

The Great Believers was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and received the ALA Carnegie Medal and the LA Times Book Prize.

 

The 2019 Clark Fiction Prize shortlist included Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, The Surprising Place by Malinda McCollum, and Those Who Knew by Idra Novey. Nominations of works published in 2018 were solicited from twelve prominent writers on the condition of anonymity. The permanent fiction faculty at Texas State narrowed those nominations down to the shortlist, and Fountain made the final selection.