Debut books by new English faculty win national awards

Authors Venita Blackburn and Joseph Cassara

By Jefferson Beavers

Authors Joseph Cassara and Venita Blackburn, both new assistant professors of English at Fresno State, have each won national awards for their debut books.

TheLos Angeles Press Club recognized Cassara’s novel, “The House of ImpossibleBeauties,” as Best Fiction Book 2018 in its 11th National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. The awards were given at a Dec. 2 gala in Los Angeles.

Cassara’snovel, published in February 2018 by Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, follows a cast of gay and transgender club kids navigating the Harlem ballroom scene of the 1980s and ’90s. His work is inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza, made famous by the famed documentary “Paris is Burning.”

PENAmerica/Los Angeles recognized Blackburn’s story collection, “Black Jesus andOther Superheroes,” with a PEN America Literary Award in Fiction 2018. The awards were given Nov. 2 at the organization’s annual LitFestGala in Beverly Hills.

Blackburn’s story collection — published in September 2017 by the University of Nebraska Press, after winning the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction — chronicles ordinary people achieving vivid extra-sensory perception while under extreme pain. Her stories center on women and men burdened with unwieldy and undesirable superhuman abilities but who nonetheless prove themselves resilient.

Cassara and Blackburn both teach in the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State. Cassara holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Blackburn holds an MFA from Arizona State University.

Related links:
“The House of ImpossibleBeauties” from Ecco Press
“Black Jesus and OtherSuperheroes” from U of Nebraska Press

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