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The Contester: Press Offers Refund, and Then Some

The University of Georgia Press recently revoked the 2004 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction given to Brad Vice of Starkville, Mississippi, for his short story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, which was published in September 2005, after learning that one of the stories contained uncredited material from Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama, a book of nonfiction published by Farrar & Rinehart in 1934 and later reprinted by the University of Alabama Press.

According to a written statement released by University of Georgia Press director Nicole Mitchell, the press learned from the Tuscaloosa Public Library that Vice’s story “Tuscaloosa Knights” contained uncredited material from the fourth chapter of the first section of Carmer’s book. The press then contacted Vice, an assistant professor of English at Mississippi State University, for his response. “Vice admitted that ‘Tuscaloosa Knights’ borrows heavily from Stars Fell on Alabama and that he had made a terrible mistake in neglecting to acknowledge Carmer’s work,” Mitchell wrote.

Vice’s manuscript was selected for publication in 2004 by a panel of three judges, all former recipients of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. After learning of the situation, the press recalled stock of The Bear Bryant Funeral Train and canceled the book’s publication. Vice agreed to return the one thousand dollar prize.

“I made a terrible mistake in neglecting to honor Carmer in my acknowledgments—though I made it out of ignorance,” Vice wrote in response to a request for comment. “I am saddened to learn this mistake will end the life of the book, a labor of love I have been working on since I was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama.” He added that, although “deeply saddened by this prospect,” he was even more disturbed by “the impression of impropriety these allegations of misconduct” have left on his hometown of Tuscaloosa and on his colleagues “in both the worlds of publishing and academics.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Vice replied, “I plan to write. I’m a writer. I mourn the loss of the prize, but I write because it is my vocation, not for prizes. I have to learn from this and move on.”

The Flannery O’Connor Award originally given to Vice will be awarded to one of the other finalists selected by the judges during the 2004 competition. As of this writing, the new winner has not been announced.

Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

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