Historian's memoir wins Georgia Author of the Year Award

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | July 2, 2015

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Emory professor Clifton Crais employed his academic training to explore his own childhood in "History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory and the Brain." Portrait by Emory Photo/Video

An Emory historian's exploration of his tumultuous childhood earned top honors at the 51st annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards.

Clifton Crais, professor of history and director of the Emory Institute of African Studies, won in the category of memoir/autobiography for his book "History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain" (Overlook Press).

Sponsored by the Georgia Writers Association, the awards recognize Georgia authors of excellence and are considered among the oldest literary award ceremonies in the Southeastern United States. This year's ceremony was held June 27 at the Kennesaw State University Continuing Education Center.

Selected by Library Journal as a Best Book of 2014, Crais' memoir recounts his experiences growing up in Louisiana with an alcoholic mother and little supervision. He employs his formal training as a historian to examine his own family history. Crais also tackles the science of memory and forgetting, with a particular focus on chronic childhood amnesia, from which he suffers.

Learning that his memoir had been recognized through the Georgia Writers Association was “an unexpected pleasure," Crais said, adding, “one never quite knows who one’s book will reach."

Emory alumni also took first place in other categories at the Georgia Author of the Year Awards.

David Darracott 73C, who has worked as a professional writer “since the month after my graduation from dear old Emory,” won in the category of detective/mystery for “Wasted” (Lightning Rod Books).

Darracott, who graduated from Emory with a bachelor’s degree in English, specializes in literary suspense and has published both novels and short stories. He has also written nonfiction for magazines, television and film productions. His novel “Wasted” tells the story of down-on-his-luck Jack Player, whose best friend suggests an easy, painless score that could turn his life around. Darracott’s novel “Internal Security” was also nominated for the 2012 GAYA in fiction.

“We writers often toil in the dark with little reward or recognition for the work we do or the arduous careers we lead, so it is particularly gratifying when we win tribute from our fellow writers,” he said.

Anya Krugovoy Silver 97G, assistant professor of English and interdisciplinary studies director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Mercer University, won in the category of poetry for her collection, “I Watched You Disappear: Poems” (Louisiana State University Press). 

Silver received a PhD in English literature from Emory, where she wrote her dissertation on anorexia nervosa and Victorian literature. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 while pregnant with her son, and her poetry collection offers meditations on feelings of anger, pain and urgency caused by a serious illness, as well as celebrations of art, motherhood and family. She has taught at Mercer since 2000. 

The winners were among 116 nominees representing 17 fiction and nonfiction categories at the annual ceremony, which was attended by more than 100 authors and literary enthusiasts.