Michael James Rizza's Cartilage and Skin is the winner of the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, as selected by Final Judge Deb Olin Unferth
MICHAEL JAMES RIZZA of Morris Plains, NJ, is the winner of the 9th Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction competition. He will receive $1,500 and publication in Starcherone Books' 2013-14 season.
CARTILAGE AND SKIN, a dark, genre-bending thriller, was selected from among five finalists chosen by contest final judge DEB OLIN UNFERTH. A total of 211 manuscripts were submitted for the prize.
Rizza's novel is the story of a lonely man who keeps making questionable decisions and whose intellect and reading are at least part of what imprisons him. Alternately sympathetic & creepy, reflecting often upon loneliness, need, sex, aberration, and guilt, and at times downright difficult to stomach, it's also a thriller with a plot that keeps shifting back on itself, that keeps you turning pages even though the protagonist is disagreeable and the events of the book seamy.
Said final judge Deb Olin Unferth, in making the award, "Cartilage and Skin has it all: a fast-paced narrative, cool language, downtrodden characters, and addictive intrigue. Rizza writes with dark high-energy and philosophical flair about his nervous anti-hero on a self-destructive quest. The story shifts with every page, never losing momentum, always surprising us. Fascinating, ferocious reading."
MICHAEL JAMES RIZZA has been teaching English for the past ten years. He has an MA in creative writing from Temple University in Philadelphia and a PhD in American Literature from the University of South Carolina. He has published academic articles on Don DeLillo, Milan Kundera, Harold Frederic, and Adrienne Rich in peer reviewed journals, such as Arizona Quarterly and Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. His fiction has recently appeared in Switchback, Atticus Books Online, and Curbside Splendor (forthcoming). He has won various awards for his writing, including a fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. The first chapter of Cartilage and Skin was performed at Playwrights Theatre in Madison, New Jersey. His current projects are a book about the theories of Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, and Michel Foucault, and a novel tentatively titled Domestic Men's Fiction. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Robin and their son Wilder, who was named after a character in DeLillo's White Noise, one of Robin's favorite novels.
Michael Rizza's book was chosen from among five finalists. The final manuscripts were chosen in July and the finalists notified, but neither the titles of the books nor the author's names were released so that the blind could be kept in place. The other finalists for the prize this year were:
John A. Colasacco, The Boy Who Didn't Wash
Stephanie Dickinson, Port Authority Orchids
Lindsey Drager, The Sorrow Proper
Matthew Scott Nye, Pike and Bloom
In addition, 2 books received Honorable Mentions from Starcherone's in-house judges:
Art Edwards, The Wanderer Gazes Out Over the Sea Fog
Nate Liederbach, Asleep as Empty Mirrors
While the Starcherone Prize is not specifically structured as a first-book competition, this marks the 9th consecutive occasion (out of nine times the prize has been awarded) that a debut book has been selected as the winner. Notable past winners include Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Alissa Nutting's Unclean Jobs for Woman and Girls, and Nina Shope's Hangings.
Starcherone Books is a literary educational nonprofit with a mission "to stimulate public interest in works of innovative prose fiction and nurture an understanding of the art of fiction writing by publishing, disseminating, and affording the public opportunities to hear readings of innovative works" as well as "encouraging the development of authors and their audiences." Founded by Ted Pelton in 2000, Starcherone incorporated as a nonprofit in 2003. The press publishes three to four books per year, including contest winners. In 2011, Starcherone became an imprint of Dzanc Books, and its new titles are distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution.
Last year's winning book, the novel The Consummation of Dirk by Jonathan Callahan, will be released in March 2013.
The prize will not be offered next year, but will return the following year with a deadline of Feb. 15, 2014.