Alicia Upano of Wahiawa, Hawai‘i, Wins 2018 James Jones First Novel Fellowship Competition

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The 26th Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship awarded first place and $10,000 to Alicia Upano of Wahiawa, Hawai‘i, for her novel titled Big Music. The competition is co-sponsored by the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University and the James Jones Literary Society.

The 26th Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship awarded first place and $10,000 to Alicia Upano of Wahiawa, Hawai‘i, for her novel titled Big Music. Photo by Alycia Kravitz.

The first runner-up was Nancy Johnson of Flossmoor, Ill.,  for her novel The Kindest Lie. Honorable mention awards were given to Megan Roberts of Sewanee, Tenn., for her novel Life on a Planet that Follows the Sun and to Deborah Good of Brookline, Mass., for her novel titled Viktor Schmitz. Each runner-up received $1,000.

The first runner-up was Nancy Johnson of Flossmoor, Ill., for her novel The Kindest Lie

The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” Jones was the author of the National Book Award winning novel From Here to Eternity as well as the novels Some Came Running and The Thin Red Line. It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress.

First Place Winner:

Alicia Upano was born and raised in Wahiawa, Hawai‘i, just outside of Schofield Barracks, where much of James Jones’ novel From Here to Eternity, takes place. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a Master of Fine Arts from the graduate program in creative writing at San Diego State University. She worked for newspapers in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley and for a nonprofit documentary film organization in Oakland, Calif. Her creative work has appeared in the Asian American Literary Review. She currently works for the University of Hawai‘i Press and lives on O‘ahu. She is also the recipient of six awards for her journalism work and is the fiction winner of the 2016 Hawai‘i Poets and Writers’ Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Upano was raised in her grandfather’s household where many of his stories of old Hawai‘i gave life to her fiction. Her grandfather was the first in her family to come to Hawai‘i in 1929 and was drafted after Pearl Harbor.

Her upcoming novel, Big Music, is the story of a family of Hawai‘i: a guitarist, his long-missing wife, and their two grown children who will never forget the day their mother left. It traces Hawai‘i’s history from the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing to its 1959 admission into the union to the late 1960s era of the Hawaiian Renaissance and Vietnam era.

First Runner-up:

Nancy Johnson is a former award-winning, Emmy-nominated journalist whose work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine. She was selected as a writing fellow in 2018 for Kimbilio Fiction and the Tin House Summer Workshop.

Johnson’s novel, The Kindest Lie, explores motherhood, family and the fallout from the choices of our youth. A black female engineer in Chicago desperately wants to reconnect with the son she walked away from 11 years ago when she gave birth to him as a teenager. When she returns to her hometown in Indiana to find him, she forms an unlikely friendship with her son’s best friend, an 11-year-old white boy who is adrift and searching for a place to call home. Their mutual need for family connection erupts in a fateful moment that exposes the racial and class divisions in the dying factory town. The story unfolds at the height of the auto industry collapse and illuminates the promise and limits of hope at the start of the Obama presidency.

Honorable Mentions:

Megan Roberts’ novel, Life on a Planet that Follows the Sun, is about Trip Harrison, a 22-year-old unemployed college drop-out, who deals with the consequences of a night of drinking and driving. The novel spans one pivotal summer in the young man’s life after his mother sends him to the eccentric Tennessee mountain town of Weymouth where she grew up.

Deborah Good’s novel, Viktor Schmitz, is a World War II story about the nearly 400,000 captured German combatants in camps across the United States, primarily in the South and Midwest. It is inspired by a true story of one German prisoner of war, Viktor, who escaped a camp and lived undetected for years. The 18-year old soldier assumes a new identity as a Dutch war refugee only to be discovered by his American mother-in-law. He tells his new family about his boyhood in Nazi Germany and his experiences as a prisoner of the Allies all while observing their explosive reaction.

Entering The James Jones First Novel Fellowship Competition

Requests for guidelines for entering the annual James Jones competition should be sent, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to James Jones First Novel Fellowship, c/o The Graduate Creative Writing Department, Wilkes University, 84 West South Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766, or via email to The submission deadline for entries is March 15 of each year.

About the James Jones Literary Society

The James Jones Literary Society was founded in 1992 to further appreciation for Jones’s writings and to encourage academic study of his contributions to 20th century literature. In addition to the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, established by the JJLS in 1992 and now co-sponsored with Wilkes University, the society sponsors an essay contest for high school students and the annual James Jones Symposium at Eastern Illinois University.

About The Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing

Wilkes University’s Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing offers the master of arts and master of fine art degrees in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, publishing and documentary film. Program faculty are working, producing writers who mentor students one-on-one through the process of creating a full-length creative project. The Graduate Creative Writing program is offered in two formats. In the low-residency format, students learn online and attend two eight-day residencies each January and June. For the weekender program, students will learn online and attend four face-to-face weekend class sessions each term. For more information, please visit or call 570-408-4527.



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