Top Award for African-American Writers goes to UNT Student

The novel tells the story of a woman in the 1960s civil rights movement through the eyes of her 8-year-old daughter.


A Ph.D. student in English at The University of North Texas has won the nation’s biggest honor for a debut novel by an African-American writer.

Sandra Faye was named winner of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation 2016 Legacy Award.

She won in the Debut Fiction category for her novel Mourner’s Bench (University of Arkansas Press), which tells the story of a woman who becomes caught in the civil rights movement of the 1960s from the perspective of her 8-year-old daughter.

“I’m now included among the most celebrated writers in African-American and American literature.”
Sandra Faye

“I’m now included among the most celebrated writers in African American and American literature,” said Faye, who someday hopes to teach creative writing. “I quit my job to follow a dream, and this award validates all of the work, the doubt, the criticism, the days sitting in classrooms with all white students and professors and the times I wondered if it would ever happen for a black woman from a small town in rural Arkansas trying to tell the truth about our history.”

According to the release, Faye was inspired to write the novel by her love of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

She asked herself, “What if Scout Finch was African-American? What would that story be?”

Faye received the award Oct. 21 at the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Other winners were named in the fiction, nonfiction and poetry categories, as well.

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