Creative Writing Professor Wins Flannery O’Connor Award

It’s been said that home is where the heart is. But for Kate McIntyre, professor of creative writing, home is a place of “productive tension,” both heart-filling and heartbreaking. Her home state of Kansas is the setting for Mad Prairie, her collection of stories that won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 2020.

Named for the writer of short stories and novels, the award was established by the University of Georgia Press in 1983 to help bring emerging writers a national readership. Each year, the series editor, renowned American writer and social commentator Roxane Gay, selects one book manuscript from among 300 entries for publication. Previous honorees who’ve gone on to storied careers include Ha Jin, Antonya Nelson, and Mary Hood.

“The Flannery O’Connor Award is such a big accolade in the literary world and has such a history of launching emerging writers’ careers.”

McIntyre cites two inspirations for her stories: other writers and lived experience. “The collection’s literary antecedents include the razor-sharp wit of Muriel Spark and Ottessa Moshfegh, the surreality of Kelly Link and Yoko Ogawa, and the unnerving horror of Shirley Jackson,” she says. “The stories are all set in rural and small-town Kansas, where I grew up. So alongside these literary influences, the stories were shaped by county fairs and demolition derbies, Friday night football and field parties, my first job catering fried chicken out of a bingo hall, the salt mines, the wide open prairies, and the skies, as the late Denis Johnson would have it, ‘as blue and brainless as the love of God.’”

She says she learned about the award just before teaching her first class in A-Term. “I yelled to my husband to tell him. Then—and this sounds very dramatic, but it did happen—I cried for a while. The Flannery O’Connor Award is such a big accolade in the literary world and has such a history of launching emerging writers’ careers. In the midst of so much heartache—the lives lost to the pandemic, the constant reports of anti-Black police violence, the wildfires burning the west coast—it felt almost obscene to have received such good news. I’m still processing the dissonance.”

For her next project, McIntyre is co-authoring a novel with her husband, Joe Aguilar, assistant teaching professor of humanities and arts at WPI. “It’s literary speculative fiction, or cli-fi, fiction of climate change,” she says. “It shares my story collection’s interest in dark humor and spectacle.”

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