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Writers Oyeyemi, Shockley and Brown-Nagin take home Hurston/Wright prizes

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The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation awarded its 2012 Fiction Prize to Helen Oyeyemi for “Mr. Fox,” a novel about a writer who can’t stop himself from killing off women in his fiction until he meets his muse, who challenges him to confront trite fairy-tale endings.

“Helen Oyeyemi is a brilliant writer who works in magical realism,” said Marita Golden, novelist and co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, which celebrates “the genius of black writers and the stories they tell.”

“The judges felt there was something audacious about the story and the way she told the story,” Golden said. “It continues the tradition of the foundation to recognize writers in the diaspora.”

The Hurston/Wright Foundation, based in Washington, was created in 1990 by Golden and Clyde McElvene, a marketing executive with a passion for books. The mission of the foundation is to discover and encourage writers of African descent and to ensure the survival of literature by black writers.

The winner in the nonfiction category was Tomiko Brown-Nagin for “Courage to Dissent.”

“The judges felt it was a groundbreaking work that added nuance to the setting of the civil rights movement,” Golden said. “It focuses not only on the big personalities, but ordinary people. ”

Evie Shockley won in the poetry category for “The New Black,” a collection of poems, sonnets and “deconstructed blues.”

“Each page was like a cartwheel,” McElvene said, inviting “readers to consider the ways in which race, like language, is a slippery enterprise.”

Other finalists for fiction were Tayari Jones for “Silver Sparrow” and Colson Whitehead for “Zone One.” Nonfiction finalists were Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts for “Harlem is Nowhere” and Binyavanga Wainaina for “One Day I Will Write About This Place.”

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