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UW Professors Nominated for High Plains Book Award

June 1, 2011

Two University of Wyoming professors are finalists in the fiction category for High Plains Book Awards.

Nominated in the best fiction category are Professor Alyson Hagy and Associate Professor Brad Watson, both in the UW Department of English. They also are MFA in Creative Writing Program faculty members. Hagy is nominated for her latest book, "Ghosts of Wyoming" (Graywolf Press) and Watson for "Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives" (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.). The third nominated fiction writer is Kansas writer Nancy Pickard for "The Scent of Rain and Lightning."

They join other authors in several categories from Montana, Michigan, Kansas, Massachusetts and Alberta, Canada, as finalists for the High Plains Book Awards, which will be presented Saturday, Oct. 15, by Parmly Billings (Montana) Library.

The past two months local volunteer book enthusiasts have read and scored more than 80 books entered in six different genres and narrowed the High Plains finalists to the top three or four in each category. The books are now under review by published regional authors, who will select the winners based on both the quality of writing and the book's contribution to the understanding of life on the High Plains.

The High Plains Books Awards are to recognize regional authors or literary works which examine and reflect life on the High Plains, including the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas, and also the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Described as "an unsentimental vision of the West, old and new," Hagy's book explores the hardscrabble lives and terrain of America's least-populous state. "Ghosts of Wyoming" explores both the state's colorful pioneer past and brings to life the not-often-heard voices of oil field workers, rock climbers and those left behind by the latest boom and bust. The book also updates several traditional ghost stories set in Wyoming.

"Ghosts of Wyoming" is Hagy's sixth work of fiction. Hagy has taught at UW since 1996. Her most recent novel, "Snow, Ashes," won prizes from both the Wyoming State Historical Society and the High Plains Literary Awards.

Watson's book, "Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives," is a collection of 12 stories of family strife, personal loss, physical trauma and emotional reckoning. The wide variety of stories in Watson's latest work prompted the New York Times to identify Watson's "great gift to be his portrayal of the hardscrabble lives of odd but everyday people, their relationships to the surrounding land freighted with privately held histories and traumas."

Earlier this semester, Watson was among five finalists nationwide for the prestigious 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, America's largest peer juried prize for fiction. The Boston Globe named "Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives" among the year's best fiction books. Watson is the author of a previous short story collection that won the Sue Kauffman Award for First Fiction, as well as a novel, "The Heaven of Mercury," that was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Originally from Mississippi, Watson previously taught at the University of Alabama, Harvard University, the University of California-Irvine and the University of Mississippi, and has held fellowships through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation.

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