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Molly Sentell Haile Wins Record-Breaking Doris Betts Fiction Prize

Molly Sentell Haile

GREENVILLE, NC—Molly Sentell Haile of Summerfield is the winner of the 2020 Doris Betts Fiction Prize for her story, “Little Things.” Haile will receive a prize of $250 from the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and her story will be published in the thirtieth annual print issue of the North Carolina Literary Review.

Haile is a graduate of Davidson College and the MFA Creative Writing Program at UNC-Greensboro. Her fiction has appeared in Jabberwock Review and Cream City Review and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her nonfiction has appeared in Oxford American and O. Henry Magazine and has received an honorable mention in The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She teaches creative writing classes for people with cancer, survivors, and caregivers at Hirsch Wellness Network in Greensboro.

The final judge this year was Josephine Humphreys, author of four novels, including Rich in Love, which was made into a movie starring Albert Finney, and Nowhere Else on Earth, inspired by the legend of Henry Berry Lowrie, North Carolina’s Civil War Robin Hood, and his wife, Rhoda Strong Lowrie.

Humphreys reported of her selection of “Little Things” for the prize: “I was smitten by this story. From the start, I knew I was in the hands of a writer who could make a trustable world within a limited number of pages while at the same time creating an atmosphere tinged with mystery. A story has to seem real (that’s the ‘trustable’ part) but it also has to seem—well—strangely crucial, important enough to get written and to get read. ‘Little Things’ achieves those goals in an interesting way: by building a fabric out of, yes, little things—accumulated details resulting in a texture strong enough to support the crucial human mystery at its core. This story is told aslant, via an inexperienced observer who watches with an eagle eye, learning the world—a child on the verge of her future. The telling proceeds like an incantation without much judgment or interpretation, until a final unexpected jolt that is itself not easy to interpret. Beautifully written throughout, with words that shine, sentences I will remember.”

A record breaking 187 stories were submitted to this year’s competition, breaking the previous record set in 2013. NCLR Editor Margaret Bauer says, “it remains to be seen whether the increase in submissions is a result of the new late summer-fall submission period or people having more time to write during the pandemic.”

Bauer reports that all of the seven finalists who made it to the last round of consideration are new to NCLR. From these finalists, Humphreys also noted two for honorable mention: “Next to Godliness” by Rose Himber Howse of Asheville and “Wherever You Go” by Nancy H. Williard of Hendersonville.

Josephine Humphreys

Humphreys said of “Next to Godliness,” “I particularly admire the ways in which these characters are made utterly convincing. Their dialogue is clever and realistic, as in ‘I told him I never smoked as far as Blue Cross knows…’ and the main character, Meredith, is both strong and vulnerable. There are no missteps in the writing.”

Humphreys called “Wherever You Go” “a powerful story about the need to escape—from grief, from memory, from love—and the gradual realization that escape may be impossible. Moving to a new place will not be the solution. The narrator is ultimately able to extract only minimal compensation, and yet at the same time it is compensation enough, no matter where his place on earth ends up being. A clear streak of honesty runs through this story.”

These stories will appear in NCLR Online 2021, and the authors will receive a $125 honoraria from a donation made to the North Carolina Writers’ Network for that purpose. The other finalists were “Hope Is a Thing That’s Molting” by Susan Emshwiller of Durham, “Tunnel” by Paul Kurzeja of Charlotte, “Communist” by Gary Powell of Cornelius, and “The Fish Pond” by Kathleen Tyler of Wilmington.

The annual Doris Betts Fiction Prize honors the late novelist and short story writer Doris Betts and is sponsored by the nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network, the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit

The North Carolina Literary Review has been managing the contest for the Network since 2006. The new submission period runs September 15 through October 31.

You can read the recognized publications here.