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March 5, 2019 at 8:35 pm

Alumni News | Frese Wins Lee Smith Novel Prize

Heather Frese, portrait

Heather Frese

Ohio University alum Heather Frese was awarded Blair’s Lee Smith Novel Prize for her upcoming book The Baddest Girl on the Planet.

Frese earned an M.A. in English from the College of Arts & Sciences in 2008.

“My time in the Masters program at OHIO was vital to my growth and development as a writer. The coursework grounded me in literature, critical theory, and pedagogy, as well as creative writing workshops that provided thoughtful mentorship and fellow writers who remain some of my closest friends and best reading and editing partners to this day,” Frese states.

Frese’s novel was selected from more than 120 contest entries.

“This novel is a heartbreaking, haunting, even funny portrait of the life of Evie Austin, baddest girl on the planet, native of Hatteras Island, N.C. The final effect is one of nostalgia in the face of life’s constant changes—an effect made all the more poignant by the ebb and flow of the Hatteras Island waves. What does it mean to come of age in the Outer Banks, to love a place as deeply as you long for something more? Who are we when we don’t recognize ourselves? Each chapter is another one of Evie’s vividly rendered memories, and they appear one after another without regard for chronology, in the way real memories do. This protagonist is not for the faint of heart; Evie Austin, her hair stiff with salt, looks her reader squarely in the face,” according to a Blair news release.

“I wrote this book after I left OU, but the main character, Evie Austin, was developed during my writing while I was there, which propelled me to use her as the protagonist in this project. The novel is a coming-of-age story told non-chronologically, and it’s a love letter to Hatteras Island, North Carolina, a wildly beautiful, complicated place. I grew up in Ohio, where the landscape, by and large, looks the same now as it did when I was a kid. But Hatteras changes visibly from day to day and year to year. How do you find solid footing in the world when your home is literally built on shifting sand?” Frese explains.

“We’re so excited to present this fun, fabulous, complex novel to the world,” says Blair Senior Editor Robin Miura. “We’re hoping readers will be just as taken with Evie Austin and her complicated, wonderful life as we are.”

The purpose of the Lee Smith Novel Prize is to recognize and publish authors living in, writing about, or originally from the U.S. South. “The press sees this prize as a way to acknowledge Lee Smith’s contributions to southern literature as a writer, teacher, and mentor while at the same time working to explore and expand the definition of southern literature,” says Miura.

Heather Frese’s fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, the Los Angeles Review, Front Porch, the Barely South Review, Switchback, and elsewhere, earning notable mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Essays. She received her master’s degree from Ohio University and her M.F.A. from West Virginia University. Coastal North Carolina is her longtime love and source of inspiration, her writing deeply influenced by the wild magic and history of the Outer Banks. She currently writes, edits, and wrangles three small children in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Frese looks back fondly on her time at OHIO.

“There are a few places where I truly feel at home – the Outer Banks of North Carolina is one. I adore my current home in Raleigh and I’ll always love my hometown of Cambridge, Ohio. But a big part of my heart has been given to Athens. It’s such a special place and my years spent at OU are so important to me,” she remarks.

Blair is a nonprofit press distributed by Consortium Book Distribution and Sales, a division of Ingram. We strive to publish quality writing, focusing on authors and subjects historically neglected by mainstream publishers, including women, people of color, authors with disabilities, and LGBTQ authors. True to our roots in North Carolina, we look to the many voices of the U.S. South—and beyond—as sources of work and inspiration.

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