Prof. Jane Delury Wins American Academy of Arts and Letters Prize for Her Debut Novel
March 12, 2019
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Jane Delury, associate professor of Creative Writing and English and director of the undergraduate program in English in the University of Baltimore's Klein Family School of Communications Design, has been named the winner of the 2019 American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, for her 2018 debut novel, The Balcony. The award, announced March 11, is one of 17 literature prizes that will be presented in New York at the Academy’s annual event in May. According to the Academy, the literature awards honor "both established and emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. The Academy's 250 members propose candidates, and a rotating committee of writers selects winners. This year's award committee members were Henri Cole, John Guare, Amy Hempel, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Joy Williams."
The Balcony, published to glowing reviews last spring and now out in paperback, follows the inhabitants of a single estate in a small village near Paris across several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day. The novel-in-stories is Prof. Delury's first work of long-form fiction, following years of writing acclaimed short stories which have appeared in publications including Narrative, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, Glimmer Train and elsewhere. She has received a PEN/O. Henry Prize, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Story Award, a VCCA fellowship, and grants from the Maryland State Arts Council.
"Jane is a writer's writer and a teacher's teacher," says Betsy Boyd, assistant professor and director of UB's MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts. "She taught herself to write by reading literature, and she has honed her craft as a fiction writer over time. Our students benefit from her award-winning talent (and wisdom) every day. She teaches the art of reading, writing, and rewriting. She believes in an artist's patient process."
The following interview with Prof. Delury was prompted by the announcement of her winning the Kaufman Prize:
What is your reaction to the news about the Kaufman award?
Prof. Delury: Surprise and delight! I was in a duckpin bowling alley with my daughter and her two friends when the email came in. I'd been writing as they bowled. (Do it where and when you can.) A formal letter was attached. In my MFA class that week, we'd been reading Joy Williams' fiction, so it was surreal to see that letter signed by her as chair of the award committee. All of the committee members are writers whom I admire. I'm humbled that they chose The Balcony.
The Balcony explores an idea that perhaps most of us intuit—but we are often reluctant to think about it too much: That the places we live were there before us, and they will go on after we're gone. Houses are homes and homes are where our lives happen, for the most part. But there is something else. What, for you, is that "something else"? What is it about the way we live—pack up, move, settle, stay, change our minds, move again—that speaks to you as a writer?
I think that my experience of living in France informs my idea of home. When I first arrived in Grenoble as a student, I didn't feel at home in the city or in the country. But over the course of years, of living and working in Grenoble and settling into the French language, I was perfectly in my slippers there. Now, when I think of my apartment in Grenoble, I can remember how I opened the shutters in the morning and how I navigated my way down the poorly lit staircase to the letter boxes, but I can't quite feel that life anymore. Yet when I start to write, I can.
Can you share a little about what is coming up for you? New work?
I'm working on a novel, and I'm always writing short stories on the side.
As a professor of creative writing, you encourage discipline in your students—be ready and willing to write a lot, don't get stuck, and revise and revise again. Clearly, the craft within the art is important to you. In your own work, how do you walk that line between the two—the art and the craft?
I write spontaneous first drafts and don’t let myself worry about whether the thing is good enough or even good. Then I print and read the draft and start to worry. I do try to get myself back to that spontaneous place for the next draft. For me, it’s the only way to discover something with a spirit of its own.