Winnsboro Native Finalist for Literary Prize

Jack Livings

Jack Livings

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Winnsboro native Jack Livings’ recently debuted and highly acclaimed short story collection, “The Dog,” has been named as one of five finalists for the prestigious PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. The winner of the $25,000 award will be announced at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on June 8 at the New School in New York City.

The PEN/Bingham award, as described by the PEN American Center, “honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work — a novel or collection of short stories — represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.”

Livings, 40, International Editor in Licensing and Syndication at Time, Inc. in New York City and previously an Editorial Director at Newsweek, said he was thrilled to be named to the award’s long list in March, and was shocked when he found out last week that he is a finalist.

“I was at work, looking at a friend’s twitter feed, when I saw that they had announced the shortlist,” he said in an interview with The Voice on Saturday, “so I clicked through and saw it. I was 100 percent ready to not be on it, so it was a really great surprise. I’m overjoyed at being a finalist,” he said, “but the odds are about 800 to 1 for me to win, because for starters Phil Klay [whose story collection, “Redeployed,” is also a finalist] has already won the National Book Award. I just don’t know how a book as good as his wouldn’t win this.”

“The Dog,” though, has garnered exceptional praise from critics – Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times’ formidable book critic, gave Livings’ book a glowing review when it was published last summer and included it on her list of the 10 Best Books of 2014. It was also selected by Barnes & Noble for their Fall 2014 Discover Great New Writers Program.

The story collection was the first of a two-book deal with publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and Livings is now in the thick of working on the second book, a novel. He said it’s important to stay focused on the writing, rather than the accolades.

“Some really nice things have happened over the last year, but that can mentally take you away from the work you want to do. It’s all wonderful,” he said, “but I also have a novel to write!”

Livings sticks to the same schedule every day, waking up around 4 a. m. to write before the day gets busy.

“Sometimes I’ll go a weekend without doing any serious work, but if I take off more than three days in a row, I get very off-center,” he said. “I need to write to be able to deal with the world. It helps me process the world. I think some people have their morning meditation, some people pray, some people go to mass. I write. That’s what I do. And if I don’t do it, I get ornery,” he said with a laugh. “So, for everybody’s sake, I try to do it every day.”

Most of his writing time these days is spent on the novel, but he has also contributed an essay about traveling to Pakistan to a forthcoming Lonely Planet anthology. Following publication of “The Dog” last summer, Livings did several readings in New York, Washington, D.C. and California, and in March he was a panelist at a literary event in Florida.

Livings said that although the work of writing is demanding, it’s also fulfilling.

“I genuinely believe that tenacity is the main thing. It took me a really long time to write [The Dog],” he said. “If you stick with it, things will work out.”

Livings lives in Manhattan with his wife, writer Jennie Yabroff, and their daughters, ages 2 and 10. Raised in Winnsboro, Livings graduated from Richard Winn Academy in 1992, and his mother, Laurens McMaster Livings, said he gets back for visits several times a year.

“The Dog” is available for purchase on Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble and through independent bookstores.

 

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