Sanderia Faye, a doctoral student in English at the University of North Texas, won the 2016 Legacy Award from the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation for a debut novel by an African American writer.

Faye won the nation’s top honor in the debut fiction category for her book Mourner’s Bench (University of Arkansas Press), a story about a woman who gets caught up in the 1960s civil rights movement as told by her 8-year-old daughter. The book is inspired by her love of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird which often made her ask herself, “What if Scout Finch was African American? What would that story be?”

“This win is both a deserved recognition and a career-making opportunity for Sanderia to reach readers who otherwise might have missed out on her striking novel and who will likely follow her work for many years,” said Corey Marks, UNT Distinguished Teaching Professor of English and director of creative writing.

Faye was presented the award at the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award Ceremony on Oct. 21 in Washington D.C. Awards also were presented in the categories of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

“I'm now included among the most celebrated writers in African American and American literature,” Faye said. “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.”

Faye, who plans to teach creative writing upon graduation and is currently working on two books also set in Arkansas, credits the UNT English Department for encouraging her to continue pursuing her dream.

“It is important for a university to believe in you and UNT supported me and my work at a time when I felt unsupported,” Faye said. “I will be forever grateful to the English department and professors.”

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