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Meet the Emerging Authors!

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The 2012 Emerging Authors Award Finallists, from left: Christopher Coake, Sherri Wood Emmons, Douglas Light
  • The 2012 Emerging Authors Award Finallists, from left: Christopher Coake, Sherri Wood Emmons, Douglas Light

The Emerging Author category is the only one left to decide this Saturday at the Indiana Authors Award Dinner, a sold-out event taking place at the Central Library, following an afternoon of free, public programming also at the library featuring all winning and nominated authors.

We already know that the winner of this year’s National Author Award — given to an author with Indy ties whose work is read throughout the country — is John Green, The New York Times best-selling author of four novels for young adults and a professional video blogger whose Vlogbrothers project (a collaboration with his brother Hank) has been watched more than 230 million times.

Barb Shoup, the author of seven novels — including her latest, An American Tune, the launch party for which is this Friday at Indy Reads Books — is the winner of this year’s Regional Author Award, given to an author known and respected throughout the state. And Dan Wakefield, who recently moved back to Indianapolis after a career spent in New York City and elsewhere, is the Lifetime Achievement Honoree.

Wakefield doesn’t get to keep the money he’s “awarded”; he’ll be asked to designate $2,500 given in his recognition to the library of his choice. But exciting prizes await the others, who in addition to each selecting a library to which to give a $2,500 grant, will receive either $10,000 (Green), $7,500 (Shoup) or $5,000 (the Emerging Author winner).

So there’s where the drama is: Who will get the $5,000 Emerging Author prize? Douglas Light, Sherri Wood Emmons or Christopher Coake?

Light was born in Indiana, but he’s since adopted New York City, and seems to be in touch with it in a way that runs deeper than those following a stereotypical writer-moves-to-New-York scenario. His debut novel, East Fifth Bliss — which was adapted into a film starring Peter Fonda — takes a cue from Joyce and extends it, following a single character over a single long weekend.

Light’s most recent publication, Girls In Trouble, is a collection of 13 short pieces that won the Grace Paley Prize in short fiction. “The short story is a strange beast,” he says with respect to the collection's gestation period, which lasted seven years. “They consume a lot less time to create, but still require a lot of energy. It is a smaller space to make something poignant happen.”

Christopher Coake is another native Hoosier winner who has taken up residence away from home. He teaches at the University of Nevada in Reno, a job of which he says, “anything Reno lacks, Lake Tahoe gives back.” His recently published You Came Back is the story of a man who believes it possible that his long-dead son has returned as a ghost — and his ex-wife, who’s certain the ghost is real.

According to Coake, “the entire book is about leaps of faith, about the unsupportable things we humans believe, and whether doing so is a necessity.”

Coake’s first wife died of bone cancer over a decade ago, and although he is happily in love and remarried, he still has nightmares in which his first wife calls, wondering why her husband has abandoned her. He says, “That kind of thing is hard to get past. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of haunting, even if I’ve created it for myself.”

Sherri Wood Emmons, author of Prayers and Lies and The Sometimes Daughter, came to novel-writing later in life, but seems to be making up for lost time. Both her prose and her characters are warm and real, with an appeal that spans generations.

For both novels, Emmons drew on her own memories to get a sense of place. The Sometimes Daughter takes place in Irvington, where Emmons grew up, and Prayers and Lies comes to life in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley, which she visited often as a child.

All three emerging authors remain at work. Emmons’ next book is due in April 2013, and Coake is deep in the weeds of his next project, a novel-in-stories that follows a man of unlucky circumstances over 25 years of his life. According to his interview this spring with Superstition Review, Light has completed another novel, Where Night Stops, and is working on his next.

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