Joanna Pearson of Carrboro, N.C., is winner of the 2021 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, given out annually by the University of Pittsburgh Press to recognize and support writers of short fiction.
Winners receive a cash prize of $15,000, publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and support in a nationwide promotion of their book.
Pearson’s “Now You Know It All” was selected by this year’s judge, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones. The University of Pittsburgh Press will publish Pearson’s collection in October 2021.
“Joanna Pearson’s ‘Now You Know It All’ offers a splendid array of stories that reminded me page after page of old-fashioned stories when writers built their pieces brick by brick and built them to last,” said Jones, author of “The Known World.” “Pearson is not after the quick two-page, soulless anecdote glancing. … ‘Now You Know It All’ is about the souls and hearts of the characters and how so very much of living got them to a point where nothing can be the same again. Chekhov and Gaines and Welty did not produce cartoon people and Pearson certainly follows their examples with her eleven-story collection.”
Set in small-town North Carolina, or featuring eager Southerners venturing afar, these stories capture that crucial moment when someone’s path changes irrevocably.
“The stories in this collection operate a bit like mini-mysteries, and once I assembled the manuscript, I could see how they chimed with one another," said Pearson. "The characters are each trying to figure something crucial out, but with that knowledge, always imperfect, of course, comes a kind of loss.”
The oldest of the stories in this collection were written in 2017, but Pearson, who works as a psychiatrist, didn't seriously start writing fiction until 2014. “I feel a little bit like I'm making up for lost time. And because my writing time is really scarce, I tend to work in these frenzied, obsessive bursts — then revise a lot, with feedback from my husband, who is my most helpful reader."
Pearson’s first collection of stories, “Every Human Love” (Acre Books, 2019), was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Foreword Indies Awards, and the Janet Heidinger Prize for Fiction. Her stories have appeared in several anthologies of “Best American Short Stories.”
She holds an masters of fine arts in poetry degree from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and a medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. A native of Western North Carolina, she now lives with her husband and two daughters near Chapel Hill.
Drue Heinz, who passed away in 2018, created the endowment for this accolade in 1981.