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First Novel, First Prize

Back in April, we blogged about John Pipkin’s first novel, Woodsburner, which was just being released by Nan Talese/Doubleday. Just this week John, a 1989 Washington and Lee graduate, won the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Woodsburner was inspired by a little-known event — the young Henry David Thoreau’s accidental destruction of 300 acres of forest in Concord, Mass.  John read from and signed Woodsburner during Alumni Reunions in May. Between then and this week’s major award, John has received considerable praise for the book, including having it named Best of the Month by Amazon.com for May. (You can read a Q and A with John on the Amazon site.) Praise for John’s book has not come only from reviewers. In its announcement of the award, the Center for Fiction included this from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin: “What a terrific tale John Pipkin spins! He has taken a dramatic episode in the life of Henry David Thoreau and transformed it into a gripping and profound work of fiction.” The Austin American-Statesman wrote a terrific piece about the novel, offering a step by step account of the book’s development from John’s first unsuccessful visit to Walden Pond in the mid-1990s to his having just signed a contract for his second book. You can read that article, “What Makes a Book Catch Fire?” here.