The South Carolina Arts Commission and Hub City Press of Spartanburg announce James Edwin McTeer II of Lexington as the winner of the 2014 South Carolina First Novel Competition. McTeer’s novel Grave Dust from the Islands Far will be published by Hub City Press and debut at the South Carolina Book Festival in May 2015.
McTeer will receive a $1,000 book advance from Hub City Press.
“Grave Dust from the Islands Far is a gorgeous fever-dream of a novel,” said competition judge Ben Fountain. “McTeer’s story of a young boy’s quest achieves a narrative drive and depth that are rare in any novel, much less a debut effort. Grave Dust picked me up by the scruff of the neck and carried me along as powerfully as a novel by Pat Conroy or Toni Morrison. Yeah, McTeer is that good. I look forward to many more novels by this excellent young writer.”
Born and raised in Beaufort, McTeer is the grandson of the late J. E. McTeer, whose 37 years as High Sheriff of the Lowcountry (and local witch doctor) served as inspiration for the winning novel. McTeer, 30, has worked for five years as a school media specialist and is currently the librarian at Polo Road Elementary School in Columbia. He lives in Lexington with his wife, but travels to Beaufort monthly “to soak in the marsh, the mud, and the salty air.”
“As a native of South Carolina and a child of the Lowcountry, being selected as the winner of the South Carolina First Novel Competition is the highest honor I could receive as a writer,” McTeer said. “My dream has always been to put a story on the page that would excite and entertain, and winning with a South Carolina tale makes the moment even more special.”
Set in a fictional Beaufort County in the late 19th century, McTeer’s novel “is a Lowcountry Heart of Darkness, evoking the work of Karen Russell,” said Betsy Teter, editor of Hub City Press. “We are thrilled to publish the enigmatic story of Minnow, who ventures deep into the voodoo world of the South Carolina Sea Islands in search of a cure for his father’s mysterious illness.”
“The First Novel Prize is South Carolina’s premiere competition to discover new novelists in our state and launch their literary careers,” said Sara June Goldstein, literary arts director at the South Carolina Arts Commission. “It is the only first novel competition sponsored by a state arts commission, and it presents a unique way to appreciate the depth and breadth of the work of our remarkable writers, and then get the best of that fine writing into the hands of readers.”
The competition judge, Ben Fountain, won the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for his debut novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. A native of North Carolina now living in Dallas, Fountain also is a recipient of a Pen/Hemingway award for a story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevera.
Other finalists in this year’s competition were Matthew Boedy of Columbia, Mary Fancher of Greer, Scott Gould of Greenville, and David A. Wright of Travelers Rest.
Read more about The First Novel competition.