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W&L’s Domnica Radulescu Receives 2009 Fiction Prize from Library of Virginia

Washington and Lee University professor Domnica Radulescu was awarded the Library of Virginia’s 2009 fiction prize for her novel, Train to Trieste, during a banquet in Richmond on Saturday, Oct. 17.

In addition, a Washington and Lee alumnus, former CBS newsman Roger Mudd, was awarded the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction for his book, The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News. Mudd is a 1950 graduate of W&L.

This is the second consecutive year that a member of the Washington and Lee faculty has been honored. R.T. Smith, Writer in Residence and editor of Shenandoah, won a 2008 award for poetry for Outlaw Style: Poems.

The Library of Virginia’s annual awards honor Virginia authors or, in the case of nonfiction, works on a Virginia subject. Awards categories were fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literary lifetime achievement. Winners of the Library of Virginia’s Annual Literary Awards and the People’s Choice Awards receive a $3,500 prize and a handsome engraved crystal book.

In selecting Radulescu’s Train to Trieste, the independent panel of judges characterized the winning book as a “stunning debut novel written in lyrically beautiful prose that transcends the pitfalls of first novels.”

In its announcement of the award, the Library of Virginia’s described the novel this way: “Radulescu tells the story of a young woman’s quest for freedom and shelter in Soviet-dominated Romania during the late 1970s, of her escape to build an American life overshadowed by that she left behind, and her pilgrimage at middle age to reclaim the landscapes of her youth. Combining the intensity of first love with the stark realities of political repression and the melancholy of exile, Train to Trieste is a haunting journey to a distant country as well as an odyssey into the human heart.”

Radulescu was born in Romania and came to the United States in 1983. She joined the Washington and Lee faculty in 1992 and is currently a professor of Romance languages and head of the women’s and gender studies program. Her novel has garnered strong critical praise since its publication in August 2008. Even before the novel was published, translation rights were purchased in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Israel, Serbia, Hungary and Greece, an indication of its expected success. Most recently, the paperback version was released by Random House and includes an endorsement from Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader and Homecoming, who wrote: “A coming of age story, a struggle for political integrity and female identity, a wonderful love story – [Train to Trieste] engages us on many levels.”

In an earlier interview about her novel, Radulescu discussed how much of the book is based on her own life: “People always ask me how much of my novel is autobiographical, but almost everybody writes autobiographically, it’s just a matter of degree. To me, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Yes, it emerged from some lived experiences, but a lot of it didn’t. In the end it is all fiction and, once invented, my characters take on a life of their own and devise their own experiences and choices. For instance, it’s called Train to Trieste, and I had never been to Trieste until after I wrote the novel.”

In August, Radulescu was interviewed by the BBC, and the interview can be heard here.

The other finalists were for the fiction award were Geraldine Brooks for People of the Book and David A. Taylor for Success: Stories.

Mudd’s book describes his two decades of work in the Washington bureau of CBS TV where he was a correspondent covering such major stories as the historic Senate filibuster debate over the 1964 Civil Rights Act. When he was passed over as the successor to CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite, Mudd left the network and joined NBC before later narrating for The History Channel.

Library of Virginia winners, from left, W&L alumnus Roger Mudd, Doreen Rappaport, Martin Clark, John Grisham, Annette Gordon-Reed, W&L professor Domnica Radulescu, Lisa Russ Spaar, Ross Taylor (accepted the Weinstein Award for his mother, Eleanor Ross Taylor), and Charles Wright.