BY MICHELLE MILLER
Cooperstown author Marly Youmans’ novel “A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage” has been selected as the winner of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction for 2010. It is the first time the award has been given out by Mercer University Press. The award was announced at the 21st annual Authors Luncheon held in December in Atlata.
A judge said in a media release, “Ms. Youmans gives us a beautifully written and exceptionally satisfying novel with rich language and lovely turns of phrase that invite the reader to linger on every page.”
The award is given by Mercer University Press “for the best book that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context.” Youmans said she has won various awards for her short fiction and has received a widevariety of recognition for her work.
However, she said this acknowledgement is especially nice because it was given by a press in Georgia, the setting of her book and the place most of her family is based.
“A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage” is set during the Depression and is part inspired by the life of Youmans’ father, who grew up as a sharecropper’s child in south Georgia. He joined the Army Air Corps at 17 and served as a teenage tailgunner in World War II. Later he became a professor of analytical chemistry. As a boy, he ran away from the cotton fields of home several times and rode the rails.
“Things that interest authors are often gaps,” she said.” “And there are lots of gaps in the knowledge I had of my father. The main character is based on that curiosity I had about my father.”
Youmans said when she would ask her father about his life, he did not provide much detail. He is dead now, she said.
“It sort of blends together family stories from two different generations,” Youmans said. “These aren’t things I know a lot about; they’re things I wanted to know a lot about. I’m kind of imagining what people didn’t tell me.” Youmans said she knew her father ran away to Florida, but that’s all she knew.
“A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage” borrows some of the places of her father’s childhood to tell a story about flight from a ramshackle Georgia orphanage.
Much of the book deals with the wild, picaresque adventures of a boy, Pip, who grows up on the rails, migrating west and north with the seasons, fleeing one terrible memory of the White Camellia Orphanage. But the rails that carry him into new life and color also bring dramatic losses to Pip, and at last he goes back to the place where he began and faces both the remains of family and what can be known about the murderous event that impelled him to flee.
Youmans said both sets of her grandparents lived in Georgia, where she would spend at least two weeks out of each summer. However, she said her grandparents on her mother’s side lived on luxurious grounds whereas her grandparents on her father’s side resided in the same sharecropper house from her father’s childhood.
“It was magical too, but in a whole different way,” Youmans said. “It placed you back to the earlier centuries and was like a heaven to a writer.”
Youmans said it did not interest her much as a child, but it became a part of her “memory bank” that she was able to use later in life.
“A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage” is scheduled to be published by Mercer University Press in the spring or summer of next year, according to a media release.
Youmans’ poetry book “The Throne of Psyche” will also be published by Mercer University Press and will be released next month.
Youmans is the author of seven earlier books − four novels, a collection of poems and two young adult fantasies.
Her third novel, “The Wolf Pit” (published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux) won The Michael Shaara Award. Her book `”Val/Orson,’ was chosen as “Book of the Year’’ for 2009 by “Books and Culture’’ magazine editor John Wilson.
A native of South Carolina, Youmans, will soon have two other novels, “Glimmerglass” and “Maze of Blood” published by PS Publishing in the United Kingdom. She will also have two poetry books, “The Foliate Head” and “Thaliad.” “The Foliate Head” will be published by Stanza Press in the United Kingdom at a date to be announced. “Thaliad” will be published by Phoenicia Publishing in California late this year.
Youmans said she considered herself a poet since she was in high school. She said her mother perceived her as serious about her writing by the time she was in seventh grade.
Youmans said she likes to veer from writing short stories to the novel to formal poetry.
“Writers come from passionate readers, I was that,” she said.
Youmans said as a child her books would lay open under her desk at school and followed her into the tub or bed. The author said she always considered herself as a poet, but shifted to fictional writing once she passed the age of 30. She said when she was working as a college teacher, a colleague asked, “what does the world need with another poem?”
That got Youmans thinking, and she said she could not write another poem for about a year. She said that is when she began writing fiction.
“I can’t function well when I am not writing so I had to be doing something,’’ Youmans said.
To learn more about Youmans and her work, visit her website www.marlyyoumans.com.
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