On Monday evening, Devi S. Laskar received the Crook’s Corner Book Prize for her debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues. 

“The story grabbed me,” Charlies Frazier, the judge for this year’s event, said of the novel. “The subject matter could not have been more of the moment.” 

Frazier, the author of the National Book Award-winning novel Cold Mountain, came to Chapel Hill for the award ceremony. Addressing the crowd—a half-moon of writers, booksellers, and readers gathered in the restaurant—he added that the award is “the coolest book prize in the country.” 

Gary Crunkleton, who presented the award, admitted to laughter that he “wasn’t a big reader,” but—nodding to Charles Frazier—said, “I’ve read the Bible, and I’ve seen your movie.” 

Now seven years in, the Crook’s Corner Book Prize is an oddball literary tradition that feels like it couldn’t have emerged out of any place except Bill Smith’s venerable kitchen. 

Inspired by literary awards presented by Parisian cafes, the yearly award is given to a debut novel set in the American South. As far as literary prizes go (many of the most prestigious ones seem basically to just be head-nods) it’s playful and generous: authors are given $5,000 and the promise of a free glass of wine at Crook’s Corner for the rest of the year. 

This year’s shortlist of nominees were The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar, Sugar Land by Tammy Lynne Stoner, and Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington.  

“No one has a tougher time getting published and gaining recognition than first-time novelists,” Anna Hayes, president of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize Foundation, said in a press release. “Our goal is to offer a timely boost to new talent.”

Laskar is a native of Chapel Hill and attended UNC-Chapel Hill. Now based in Northern California, she has worked as a newspaper reporter and poet. A roving narrative experiment with time and memory, The Atlas of Reds and Blues follows the story of Mother, a second-generation Bengali woman who is shot by police in her Georgia home.

The novel is based on a terrifying real-life brush with racist police officers that Laskar experienced in her own home. A review in the Guardian described the novel as a “devastating, poetic debut about racism in Trump’s America.”

“I’m honored,” Laskar said, “This [book] was our little experiment because it was different—and different doesn’t always work.” 


Contact associate arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at sedwards@indyweek.com.

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