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Charlotte writer wins Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize

Winning author

Barbara Johnson-Davis

WINSTON-SALEM — Charlotte writer Barbara Johnson-Davis, whose “May Day Miracle” received honorable mention last year, has won this year’s Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize for her new story, “The Last Straw.” The contest is sponsored by the North Carolina Writers Network.

Johnson-Davis will receive $1,000, and The Carolina Quarterly will consider “The Last Straw” for publication.

Final judge Bridgette A. Lacy selected “The Last Straw” from nine other finalists for the prize.

“‘The Last Straw’ is a moving story about a young girl choosing a formal education over the family business of farming,” Lacy said. “The stakes are high, taking her final senior exams or planting tobacco. This story feels so authentic and rooted in rural North Carolina, where low-wealth families are often forced to make that choice. The heartfelt dialogue between the father and daughter really resonated with me.”

Johnson-Davis was born to a sharecropping family in Leasburg, and graduated from Bennett College. Her work has been performed at the Matthews Playhouse, Queens University of Charlotte, and the Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius. She is a member of both the Charlotte Writers’ Club and NCWN.

Lacy also selected “Redemption Song,” by Greensboro’s Carolyn Tucker, for honorable mention.

“This story reflects North Carolina’s stormy landscape on two levels: damaging hurricanes and the mass incarceration of black men. Both issues have the capacity to devastate the lives of people of eastern North Carolina and beyond,” Lacy said. “This author captures a moment of grace as a family tries to save each other. The wife heads to church to wait out a storm, while her incarcerated husband and son persuade the prison warden to release them so they can defend and protect the local community.”

Tucker studied computer science and worked for more than 30 years in information technology. A 2013 layoff freed her to follow her passion for the written word. Her short story “Three Women Who Love” has been published in the anthology “When She Loves.”

The Jacobs/Jones contest, sponsored by the NCWN and administered by The Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, is open to any African-American writer whose primary residence is in North Carolina. Entries may be fiction or creative nonfiction, but must not have been published before (including on any website, blog or social media), and must be no more than 3,000 words.

“This award was initiated by Cedric Brown, a Winston-Salem native and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to honor the best in short prose by African-American writers in North Carolina.

“The literary award was borne out of my frustration with being unable to readily find much fiction or creative nonfiction that conveys the rich and varied existence of Black North Carolinians,” Brown said. “I wanted to incentivize the development of written works while also encouraging Black writers to capture our lives through storytelling.”

The full competition guidelines can be found at www.ncwriters.org.

Lacy is an award-winning journalist and author. She was a longtime features writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh. She’s the author of “Sunday Dinner,” part of the Savor the South series by UNC Press and a finalist for the Pat Conroy Cookbook Prize. Lacy is also a contributor to “The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food” (Eno Publishers, 2016) and “27 Views of Raleigh: The City of Oaks in Prose & Poetry” (Eno Publishers, 2013). Her work has appeared in Our State magazine, Salt and O.Henry.

A member of the Carolina African-American Writers’ Collective, Lacy will be part of the keynote celebration at this year’s Spring Conference, and will teach a class on creative nonfiction.

The Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize honors the 19th-century writers Harriet Jacobs and Thomas H. Jones. Jacobs was born in 1813 near Edenton, escaping to Philadelphia in 1842, after hiding for seven years in a crawl space above her grandmother’s ceiling. She published her autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” under a pseudonym in 1861. Jacobs died in 1897 and was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1997.

Jones was born into slavery near Wilmington in 1806. Able to purchase the freedom of his wife and all but one of his children, he followed them north in 1849 by stowing away on a brig to New York. In the northeast and in Canada, he spoke as a preacher and abolitionist, writing his memoir, “The Experience of Thomas Jones,” in 1854, as a way to raise funds to buy his eldest child’s freedom.

The non-profit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to all writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit www.ncwriters.org.

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