May 29, 2012 — University of Virginia graduate student Gregory Jackson is the 2012 winner of the Henfield Prize in Fiction for his short story, "The Sort of Thing Micah Heard."
Jackson will receive a $10,000 award funded by the Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation, which endowed the prize at U.Va. and four other writing programs last year.
Jackson is a student in the University's Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, part of the English department in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He is currently working on a novel, tentatively titled "The Philosopher Kings," which is also the core of his master's thesis.
Jackson, who grew up in coastal Maine and Boston, received his bachelor's degree in English and American literature and languages from Harvard University in 2006. He subsequently assisted with investigative journalist Ron Suskind's 2008 book, "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism." Jackson also worked for the New York-based literary magazine n+1 alongside U.Va. alumnus Chad Harbach, who graduated in 2004.
Attending the Creative Writing program has been "a dream," Jackson said, "an opportunity to devote myself exclusively to writing for two years, under the guidance of the best creative writing faculty in the country and in the company of a small group of exceptionally talented young writers."
The program's creative environment provided rigor and supportiveness simultaneously – "a rare and invaluable combination for emerging writers looking to push themselves and take artistic risks," he said.
Author Michael Knight, the judge for this year's Henfield Prize, described Jackson's winning story as "Smart and funny, expertly contemporary, keenly observant, beautiful in the way the story uses exterior imagery – the ocean, the city – to reflect interior emotion. The friendship at the heart of the piece is as original and memorable as one will find in fiction. This is the work of a savvy writer with a rare talent for addressing real and serious content even as he entertains."
Knight, a 1996 U.Va. alumnus, is the author of two novels, "Divining Rod" and "The Typist," and several collections of short fiction. His work has appeared in publications such as Esquire, The New Yorker and Oxford American. "The Typist" was recently selected for Oprah Winfrey's summer reading list and as the Oprah Winfrey Book of the Week. He teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee.
The Henfield Prize, established in 1980 by the late literary editor, agent and art collector Joseph McCrindle, is one of the most prestigious individual prizes available to emerging authors. Well-known recipients include Jonathan Ames, Harriet Doerr, Sue Miller, A.M. Homes, Walter Mosley and Ann Patchett.
Along with U.Va., the other four schools with highly rated creative writing programs that recently began hosting the Henfield prizes are Columbia University, University of California at Irvine, University of Iowa and University of Michigan. Each school has an outside judge choose a winner from among its graduate students.
"The Henfield Prize is a wonderful way to recognize the very best fiction by our M.F.A. students, as well as a rare opportunity to help support emerging writers as they move from graduate school to a lifetime of writing," said Jeb Livingood, associate director of U.Va.'s Creative Writing Program.
Jackson will spend one more academic year at U.Va. and teach an academic-writing class on author David Foster Wallace. He said he hopes to finish a first draft of his novel over the coming year and continue making headway on a variety of other literary projects.
"The future is an open book after that," Jackson said.
– by Anne Bromley
An excerpt from Gregory Jackson's short story, "The Sort of Thing Micah Heard"
"If Trevor had left her [Micah] because he saw silliness in her good spirits and wanting seriousness in her sense of wonder, then perhaps this was the price she paid for her soul. There was nothing all that silly in choosing to find things wondrous when it was much easier to pretend nothing was. Trevor belonged to the ranks of those intent on pretending that nothing in life was surprising. He belonged with those putting off their incredible confusion, postponing it until the moment of achieving all those things, those outward things, they had invested with such meaning. Yes, on the path to whatever you had confused for your dreams, you could postpone laughing and crying at the strangeness of your soul. But you would confront it in time, and then you would feel how silly it all was, and how silly you were too."