Kim Wright / photo by Alan Jenkins(photo by Alan Jenkins)

There's something special about Southern storytelling, and North Carolina writer Kim Wright's latest novel, Last Ride to Graceland, is a modern classic following that long tradition. Chosen as a Spring 2016 Okra Pick, Wright's elegiac tale of memory, music, and self-discovery was just awarded the prestigious Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction.

Named in honor of the acclaimed Southern writer and editor,Willie Morris, the award recognizes a novel that reflects the spirit of Morris’s work, and stands out for the quality of its prose, its originality, its sense of place and period, and the appeal of its characters. Reba Williams, co-sponsor of the award with her husband Dave, was inspired to recognize and spotlight works set in one or more Southern states by Southern writers that embody, in Morris's words, “hope for belonging, for belief in a people’s better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive.”Last Ride to Graceland / Okra Pick

On learning that Last Ride to Graceland had been selected, Kim Wright responded, “I am incredibly honored, especially when I consider the other writers who have been chosen in the past. I’ve wondered if the uniquely Southern voice is in danger of dying out, with so many people moving in and out of the region. What does "Southern" really mean today? Then I read certain books and remember—it's that strong storytelling style, born out of an oral tradition, a tale which might be either funny or sad, raucous or subtle, but which always ends on a note of redemptive lift."

Publishers and booksellers are invited to submit books for consideration. Jill Hendrix, proprietor of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, proposed Last Ride to Graceland. “When I realized Kim’s book met all the criteria for the Willie Morris Award, I was happy to nominate it, and thrilled when I learned it had won,” said Hendrix.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual prize. Past recipients include Mindy Friddle, Stephen Wetta, Terry Roberts, and Katherine Clark, last year’s honoree for The Headmaster’s Darlings. The winning book is selected by a panel of academics and writers, including some previous winners of the award.