Hunter College Professor Wins Major Literary Award

Michael Thomas, a professor of creative writing at Hunter College in New York City, is the winner of the International Impac Dublin Literary Award for his novel Man Gone Down. The award, given out by the Dublin Public Library system, comes with a cash prize of 100,000 euros, or about $140,000. Man Gone Down was one of 146 books nominated for the award, which is generally considered to be the second most prestigious honor given in literature behind the Nobel Prize.

While a work of fiction, the novel’s main character has many similarities with the author. They both grew up in Boston, were college dropouts, married white women, had three children, and live in Brooklyn. Man Gone Down was rejected by many book publishers but finally appeared in paperback in 2007 on the imprint of Black Cat Press, a division of Grove/Atlantic. Thomas received a major boost when the book was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. More than 65,000 copies have been printed and a rollout in Europe is taking place this summer.

The citation accompanying the Dublin Literary Award stated that the novel is a “drama of individual survival set against the myth of an integrated and racially normalized America. It shows, in unsentimental clarity, the way the future can close mercilessly on those marginalized by race and social circumstance.” Thomas was called a “writer of enthralling voice and startling insight.”

Thomas spent one semester at Connecticut College before dropping out to travel through Europe. He then went to New York and worked as a messenger, restaurant worker, and bar singer. During this period he went back and finished his bachelor’s degree at Hunter College. He later did graduate study at Brown University and earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina.

Thomas is currently working on a family memoir. He says he has three novels he has worked out in his mind but has not yet put on paper. With the Dublin Literary Award in his pocket, he undoubtedly will have little trouble finding a publisher.