blackbirdonline journalSpring 2011  Vol. 10  No. 1
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A Reading by Victor Lodato
captured November 4, 2010 on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University

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Terry Oggel: This award celebrates Tom [De Haven]’s yearlong novel workshop offered through VCU’s MFA in Creative Writing program. It was the nation’s first yearlong novel workshop and is still one of the very few. During the first years—though this award was not as large an event as it is now, it was a daunting undertaking—and Patty Smith coordinated the entire competition by herself. She is with us tonight. Patty, please stand. With her are some of her students from Appomattox Regional Governor’s School. Students, welcome! This evening Patty will serve as moderator for our panel. Her counterpart this year is Joel Cabot, First Novelist coordinator. Joel has done a magnificent job coordinating all aspects of this event. Joel’s here in the front. Stand up please, Joel. And special thanks also go to Thom Didato from the English department who helped orchestrate many of this evening’s events.

Over the years a great deal has happened to secure this competition’s elevated status and its future. In the early years, Richmond writer and VCU alumnus David Baldacci generously funded and supported the fledgling award, for which we are ever grateful. Current sponsors include the VCU Department of English, James Branch Cabell Library Associates, VCU Friends of the Library, the VCU Libraries, the VCU Honors College, Barnes & Noble @ VCU Bookstore, and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. On the back of your program is an acknowledgment of the individuals from these sponsors. Some of those individuals are with us this evening and I ask them to stand as I call their names and to remain standing to be recognized as a group with our grateful applause: John Ulmschneider, University Librarian; along with Kimberly Separ, Director of Development; and Antonia Vassar, Assistant Director of Development at VCU Libraries; Walter Dotts, President of Cabell Library Associates; Mary Corley, President of the VCU Friends of the Library Board; Fred Hawkridge, Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences; Tim Hulsey, Dean of the Honors College; Doug Boudinot, Dean of the Graduate School; and Amy Randolph, VCU Bookstore, Barnes & Noble. Thank you!

We’re delighted that the VCU Libraries, the James Branch Cabell Associates, and the VCU Friends of the Library have become partners with the Department of English to help make this outstanding event possible. For the past twenty-five years the Cabell Associates have sponsored the annual Cabell Lecture and now the Cabell First Novelist Award to help honor the life and work of famed Richmond writer James Branch Cabell. The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is given annually to celebrate a rising new talent in the literary world who has successfully published a first novel during the previous calendar year. Since 2001 the volume of books submitted to the VCU Cabell First Novel Award has increased considerably. For this year’s award we received more than 130 titles for consideration.

Let me say a brief word about the evaluation process. The work begins the year before the award. In other words, the work on next year’s award is already beginning, with a call for people to begin to read novels that have come in from the first wave of submissions. Books come from well known publishing houses, from university presses, and from independent labels—proof that the reputation of the award and of the university behind it continues to spread through the myriad branches of the publishing world. Throughout the process, readers from VCU—students, full-time faculty, staff members, adjunct faculty, TAs—as well as readers from the community post their responses for each book, recording evaluation scores for each novel according to seven criteria. These are tallied and in April the highest scoring books are announced. From these, a dozen titles are recognized as the short list of semifinalists. The three finalist novels are then sent to a panel of judges. This year’s judges are named in your program. And the winner is announced in May. November to May, six months, half a year of work by several hundred people, all told.

 Now for our guest of honor. High praise has already been bestowed upon this novel in the United States and beyond. The reviewer for Canada’s national English language newspaper, Globe and Mail, has said that Victor Lodato’s “debut novel has just made the search for the best U.S. novel of 2009 much, much simpler. With its utterly captivating voice . . . and timely but lasting philosophical investigations, Mathilda Savitch is one of the strongest debut novels to arrive in decades.” Once fierce little Mathilda starts talking, few will want to stop her. Please join me in a warm welcome for the 2010 VCU Cabell First Novelist prize winner, Victor Lodato.

Victor Lodato:Thank you. It’s really wonderful to be here. It’s my first time in Richmond and everyone’s just been so nice. It’s amazing. So I’m just going to jump right in and read from the very beginning of the novel and just let Mathilda introduce herself.

[Mathilda Savitch: A Novel, Victor Lodato, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.]

Thank you.  end

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