In the Garden of Stone by Converse professor Susan Tekulve received a gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards – known as the IPPYs – as the best novel published in the South by an independent press in 2014.
The annual awards are open to members of the independent publishing industry worldwide who publish in the English language for the North American market. It is the world’s largest book awards competition. An award ceremony will be held May 28th in New York City.
Tekulve’s book was published by Hub City Press. It is the 13th IPPY for the press in the past 15 years, and its fifth gold award. “We knew Susan’s book was a strong contender for this honor and were excited that the judges agreed with us,” said Betsy Teter, director of Hub City Press. “In the Garden of Stone has been a strong seller and the reviews have been solid.”
In the Garden of Stone also was the winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize, as judged by Josephine Humphreys, and was an “Okra Pick” by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. The book is a multi-generational story of Sicilian immigrants who come to the coal mines of West Virginia in the early 20th century. Harrowing and beautifully told, it is a haunting saga of endurance and redemption.
“This has been an amazing experience, and I am overwhelmed and deeply appreciative of the people who’ve read and supported my book,” said Tekulve about the honor. “I’m especially struck by how insightfully, and personally, readers have talked with me about the novel. While I was writing it, I was focused on telling the story of a single family. Now that the book is out, I’ve been amazed by how many people identify with my characters and have likened them to friends and family members in their own lives. This ‘dialogue’ between my book and my readers has been a complete revelation.”
A first-time novelist, Tekulve says that she immersed herself fully in “living” the story while writing the book. Two years after its completion, she has gained a new perspective on her work and benefits from viewing it through a more analytical lens. “I’m proud of the book, and grateful for my good fortune, but the experience of producing and promoting a book has allowed me to gain a whole different set of skills,” she says. “These skills are absolutely necessary for a writer to learn.”
C. Michael Curtis, editor of The Atlantic and Wofford College English professor, was editor of Tekulve’s book. “Susan needed little help from me, but she made intelligent use of every suggestion I made,” Curtis said. “She transformed a loosely connected sheaf of stories into a novel that is pragmatic about murder and other heartbreak, while deeply sensitive to the resilience and profound attachments of the coal-mining families who populate her book.”
As for what comes next for Tekulve, the author says, “I hope to start a new writing project this summer, with the setting in Sicily in the early twentieth century. Right now, I am wading into the research stage of this project, and I’m writing a lot of travel essays to help immerse myself in the setting. After writing In the Garden of Stone, I became convinced that one of the best ways to discover any story–but especially a novel-length story– is to completely immerse myself in the place where I’ve set it. Once I’ve discovered everything possible about my setting, and I’ve thoroughly “digested” those details and made them a part of me, the story itself evolves more naturally.”
Susan Tekulve’s nonfiction, short stories and essays have appeared in journals such as Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, The Georgia Review, Connecticut Review, and Shenandoah. She is the author of two story collections, My Mother’s War Stories, which received the 2004 Winnow Press fiction prize, and Savage Pilgrims, (Serving House Books, 2009). Tekulve has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and is associate professor of English at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C.