Fairfield University professor wins Connecticut Book Award in fiction

Fairfield University professor wins Connecticut Book Award in fiction

Fairfield University Adjunct Professor Peter Duval on Sunday won the Connecticut Book Award in fiction for his quietly insightful debut collection of short stories, "Rear View: Stories."

Two other members of Fairfield's faculty - Professor Nicholas Rinaldi and Associate Professor Michael White - were also nominated for the award, which was presented at Hartford City Hall. Other finalists' entries were author Kate Walbert's "Our Kind" and two-time National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America."

Duval's 12 stories are written with a mix of telling detail and deadpan humor. Throughout, Duval treats his characters - small-time thieves, lapsed Catholics, night shift workers - with compassion. "Rear View" was the 2003 winner of the Bakeless Prize for Fiction and Duval was one of five finalists for the prestigious 2005 Los Angeles Book Prize in First Fiction for the collection.

"Duval quietly reserves judgment while getting deep inside his characters and reflecting the weird chaos that exists within all our lives," said a reviewer for Booklist.

At the ceremony, awards presenter Mary Etter also praised Duval for finding the remarkable in the lives of seemingly ordinary characters. Duval, who said he was "floored" to win the top honors, thanked his son, Nick, "for helping me to keep it real," and reminded the audience "never to underestimate the power of a mother's prayers."

Now in its fourth year, the Connecticut Book Awards are presented by the Connecticut Center for the Book, a program of Hartford Public Library. To qualify, a book must be published during the previous year and must be by an author, illustrator or designer who lives in or has lived in Connecticut, or chose the state for his or her setting. The books are chosen by a panel of judges from nominations made by people in the publishing industry, librarians, teachers and the public.

Duval, a Wallingford resident and web application developer, said he was thrilled to be chosen as a finalist, especially since he shared the honor with Rinaldi and White.

"They're both accomplished writers whose work I admire," he said Monday. "I'd say there was a nice sense of camaraderie."

Duval is currently teaching a course on composition and prose at Fairfield. He will teach creative writing during the spring semester. In addition, Duval has a finished novel being considered by Houghton Mifflin and he's gathering research materials for a novel based on noted photojournalist W. Eugene Smith.

"It's something completely different from what I've been doing - historical fiction," he said.

Rinaldi's entry, "Between Two Rivers," (HarperCollins), centers on Farro Fescu, the observant concierge at a New York City condominium complex, and the dazzling cast of characters who pass his way each day. The narrative eye moves deftly through their apartments, revealing private histories and dramatic interactions, culminating in a sudden, overwhelming tragedy.

The New York Times Book Review called the novel "sprawling" and "elegant," while Book List dubbed it a "beautiful, emotionally uplifting tribute to the human spirit." Rinaldi is the author of two previous novels and three poetry collections.

White was nominated for "The Garden of Martyrs," a fictionalized account of the little-known 1805 Massachusetts case of Dominic Daley and James Halligan, two Irish Catholics held on murder charges after a young Protestant farmer was found dead along the Boston Post Road stretch where the men were walking. Published by St. Martin's Press in May 2004, the book is White's fourth novel.

"Michael White's new novel ... is everything a historical novel, or any novel, should be - rich in its characters and setting, compelling in its drama, and utterly true in its deepest emotions and ideology," wrote Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Empire Falls."

Posted On: 12-05-2005 10:12 AM

Volume: 38 Number: 118