WINSTON-SALEM—Ashley-Ruth Bernier, a first-grade teacher from Apex, has won this year’s Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize for her story “The Release.”
Bernier will receive a $1,000 prize, and The Carolina Quarterly will consider “The Release” for publication.
Final judge Jacinda Townsend selected Bernier’s story from among nine finalists.
Townsend said of the story, “When a county judge is released from the hospital, she seeks refuge from her demons in an afternoon of fishing. Little does she know that a chance encounter with the unlikeliest of strangers will bring her redemption. Filled with rich lyricism and tightly-drawn structure, ‘The Release’ delivered a gut punch that the reader won’t soon forget.”
A teacher as well as a mother of four, Bernier is originally from St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. She writes contemporary Caribbean mysteries, and is currently finishing a novel told in the form of eight linked “short-ish” stories, the first of which will appear in print in the spring.
“Close” by Leticia Tuset received Honorable Mention. Townsend said, “With language carefully crafted to reveal the rawness within its characters, ‘Close’ tells the story of a most unusual mother-daughter relationship. As an unflinching look of the complications of familial love and the tragedy of missed connection, it gives readers an unforgettable scalding.”
Tuset is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she is a Morehead-Cain Scholar. She describes herself as “a storyteller at heart,” and says that “when she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, road trips, and playing with her two nieces.”
The Jacobs/Jones contest, sponsored by the NCWN, 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.
Jacinda Townsend is the author of Saint Monkey (Norton, 2014), which is set in 1950s Eastern Kentucky and won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction. Saint Monkey was also the 2015 Honor Book of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her second novel, Mother Country, will be published by Graywolf Press in fall of 2022. Townsend teaches in the Zell Creative Writing program at the University of Michigan.
The Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize honors the nineteenth-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.
This Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize was initiated by Cedric Brown, a Winston-Salem native and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“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 winner of the 2021 Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize was Isaac Hughes Green of Durham, for his short story “Fifteens.”
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.