I’m thrilled to announce that Kissed by a Fox just won the 2013 WILLA Award in creative nonfiction. This nationally recognized award is given annually to “honor the best in literature, featuring women’s or girl’s stories set in the West.” Deep thanks to Women Writing the West, the group that sponsors the program.
When I sent Kissed by a Fox out into the world, I knew we were taking some chances. Would it be classified memoir or nonfiction? Which of the two was it anyway?
Some people, I knew, would be drawn to the memoir side of it—stories of Sapphire the wise dog or Brio the querulous cat or Rudy the red fox, who licked the inside of my mouth—but would skip over the nonfiction sections. Others might enjoy having their brains tickled by thinking about how Western civilization’s attitudes toward nature developed but wouldn’t care to hear about the author’s life at all. Still others might be put off by the very heart of the book, the connecting-with-nature experiences that break the mold of what we usually think is possible in the world. Then there was that title, which didn’t really tell readers, as a title is supposed to do, exactly what they would find in the book.
(Though my qualms about the title were answered just a few days ago by one of my most rational and skeptical readers, who countered, “A story about the trust and respect that made it possible for a fox to lick your mouth? I think that’s exactly what the book is about.”)
Underneath it all, my intention in writing was to create a piece of literary nonfiction, and to have the book recognized in that way is more deeply satisfying than anyone can know.
I want to give a huge shout-out of congratulations to other WILLA winners and finalists. My friend Barbara Richardson, also from Boulder, is a finalist in historical fiction for her wonderful novel Tributary. The book traces a nineteenth-century woman’s journey toward the heart of community, a journey that many women know is fraught with perils—communities that don’t match the best in their members, loneliness in the midst of or outside of a community, relationships that take unexpected turns. The people in Barbara’s book talk in spot-on dialect—and it’s so fresh and so witty that more than once a turn of phrase stopped me in my tracks and I sighed, “How does she do that?”
Another Boulder-area winner is BK Loren, whose novel Theft won the WILLA in contemporary fiction. I haven’t met her or read the book yet but am looking forward to both. BK’s book is also published by Counterpoint, which gives my fine, author-friendly publisher two WILLAs this year.
The WILLA Award is named after the great American novelist Willa Cather, whose stories of women working out their lives in the American West began began captivating me in my twenties. Cather touched on themes and places that were dear to me—a musician’s quest in Song of the Lark, the sweeping red rock country in Death Comes for the Archbishop, a woman’s heart in O Pioneers! Her lyric, contemplative style gave me a place to rest. I couldn’t be more thrilled that Kissed by a Fox is recognized by a program that bears her name.
So what’s your favorite Willa Cather novel? And how old were you when you discovered it?
I have really enjoyed reading Willa Cather. I have read My Antonia and Death Comes to the Archbishop. I love her prose. I did not find out about her until the last couple of years. Congratulations on your success, you deserve it!
Thanks, Bob! Yes, us contemplative types seem to find Willa sooner or later. I had very few lit courses in college, so I think I found her on by accident in my twenties. I was a musician at the time, and the novel of the singer (Song of the Lark) grabbed me—not the outward journey of the singer so much as her inner journey. Would be interesting to read it again now, several decades later.
As much as I adore Cather’s novels, her short stories have also lodged in my heart. Impossible to choose a favorite. They’re like elbows and sinews and eyes, all necessary for the proper functioning of this adult who owes much gratitude to the breadth and humanity of Willa’s mind and heart and books. She’s been an inspiration for over two decades.
Your book IS literary nonfiction. Fantastic that the Women Writing the West judges gave you this award!
It takes a certain reader to find my novel witty. So glad you do!
Barb, thanks for dropping by! I haven’t read any of Cather’s short stories, but you inspire me to go find them. And yes, I find great wit in your novel and hope that it shows up again in your future writing. Congratulations again on Tributary getting recognized for its distinctive voice and its contribution to the literature of the West.
CONGRATULATIONS, Priscilla! So happy for you! A much-deserved award!
As for Willa Cather… My Antonia… in college… and here’s a quote from her book resonates in harmony with thoughts from Kissed by a Fox…
“I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
Oh, how beautiful! “To be dissolved into something complete and great . . . as naturally as sleep.” Ahhhhh! Such a beautiful experience, and such a perfect way of putting words to it. Willa rocks. Thanks, Craig, for sharing it. I can tell there’s a treat in store—going to read My Antonia.
My Antonia was my first of Willa Cather’s novels, but it was Song of the Lark which left the strongest and most bittersweet impression. It’s been over a decade, though I only discovered her in my mid forties here in Colorado. Song of the Lark broke my heart, but woke me up. I feel grateful to have found her work after living a spell here in dry Colorado, as earlier decades of my life in the lush Pacific NW–which I dearly love–cluttered my vision in some ways. Wide, open spaces and long, dry vistas beg the watercolor of my mind to go to work and relate more intimately to her setting.
What a beautiful image, Cheri, of watercolors next to Cather’s writing. A delicate wash in both color and words—perfect! (Are you writing yet??)