Rebecca Makkai wins 2019 Clark Fiction Prize for 'The Great Believers'

Inside TXST

Jayme Blaschke | December 12, 2019

Rebecca Makkai profile picture
Photo Credit: Susan Aurinko

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. 

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 in 1985, 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 80s and the chaos of the modern world, as both struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Chicago-based Makkai's other novels include "The Hundred-Year House" and "The Borrower," as well as the short story collection "Music for Wartime." "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. Her books have been translated into 14 languages, and her short fiction has been anthologized in "The Pushcart Prize XLI" (2017), "The Best American Short Stories" 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, "The Best American Nonrequired Reading" 2016 and 2009, "New Stories from the Midwest" and "Best American Fantasy." Her work has been featured on Public Radio International's "Selected Shorts" and "This American Life." 

Makkai is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University. She is artistic director of StoryStudio Chicago.

The 2019 Clark Prize short list 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 12 prominent writers on the condition of anonymity. The permanent fiction faculty at Texas State narrowed those nominations down to the short list, and Fountain made the final selection. 

About the L.D. and LaVerne Harrell Clark Literary Endowment

L.D. and Laverne Harrell Clark donated their home and other property to Texas State in 2009 to create an endowment to support writers-in-residence. The Clark Literary Endowment funds the annual L.D. and Laverne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize, which is among the most generous fiction prizes in the country. It also funds a writers-in-residence program that offers one-year residencies to graduates of the Texas State MFA program at the Clarks’ historic home on Main Street in Smithville, 55 miles east of the Texas State campus. The writers-in-residence program is sponsored by the Department of English and MFA Program in Creative Writing within the College of Liberal Arts. The endowment also funds numerous scholarships for Texas State MFA students. 

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For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922