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Monday, October 25, 2021

UC Davis Alumna receives Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction

ANNA HURST / COURTESY
ANNA HURST / COURTESY

Becky Mandelbaum wins prize for her book, Bad Kansas

UC Davis creative writing master’s student Becky Mandelbaum was recently awarded the prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, a prize that has helped launch the careers of many renowned writers.

“My collection, Bad Kansas, is a book of stories primarily set in Kansas,” Mandelbaum said. “The stories aren’t necessarily ‘about’ anything, although they deal with themes of place and what it means to live in an area often overlooked by the rest of the country.”

The stories in the collection are largely inspired by the 23 years Mandelbaum lived in Kansas, and center on the people she knew there and the stories that she grew up with.

Mandelbaum’s talent was nurtured by the UC Davis creative writing faculty, particularly her mentor Pam Houston, a creative writing professor and short-story author.

“I liked [Mandelbaum’s] work even before I ever met her,” Houston said. “Once we met, we found we had a lot of things beyond the work in common our love of the mountains, hiking and camping, dogs and all animals.”

Houston stated that of all the applicants she screened for the master’s program at UC Davis, Mandelbaum was the one she was most eager to work with.

“What made [Mandelbaum’s] writing stand out for me is her clear and sharp eye for detail combined with a slightly canted and ultimately compassionate world view,” Houston said. “[Mandelbaum] is wise way beyond her 25 years she has more emotional intelligence than many people I know who are twice her age and as a result her characters are complex, utterly authentic and capable of generating deep empathy in her readers.”

The English Department is thrilled that Mandelbaum received the award, according to UC Davis English Department chair John Marx.

“The fact that she recently graduated from the creative writing program in June and already knows where her first book will appear is a big deal in and of itself,” Marx said. “That the book will be published with such an elite company is even more impressive. We all join her mentor Professor Pam Houston in being extremely proud.”

In addition to the Flannery O’Connor award, Mandelbaum has received the Lawrence Art Center’s Langston Hughes Award for Fiction and the Davis Stories on Stage Award for 2015 and 2016.

“I’ve always loved writing, which is really just to say I’ve always loved reading. Books have always been there for me, and writing is just a natural extension of my love for books and language,” Mandelbaum said. “Publishing and submitting work is a tricky business, especially for young writers […] Rather than sell myself short, I decided a few years ago I would let my work speak for itself in the world. I would let the readers and editors decide whether my work was worthy of publication.”
Written by: Jennifer Duong – arts@theaggie.org

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