Fiction writer wins literary prize

Leah Hampton MA ’01 won the 2012 Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition for her story “The Saint.”

Hampton, who has a background in technical writing, is associate director of WCU’s Writing and Learning Commons. She turned to her story as a respite from recent challenging work-related writing projects. “I became determined to take some time for myself and finally submit this story, which had been on the back burner for some time,” she said. “It felt so good to finish it, to feed that part of myself. I am so thrilled and fulfilled by this whole experience.”

“The Saint” is the story of a young woman dealing with a death in her family. To capture the isolation and subjectivity of grief, Hampton wrote the story with time, memory and place “out of joint,” she said. “One minute it’s yesterday, then it’s 20 years ago, then it’s next week. Or maybe not.”

Liza Wieland, fiction editor at the North Carolina Literary Review, selected Hampton’s story from 12 finalists out of a total of 89 entries. Wieland described “The Saint” as “both disarmingly wise and breathtakingly beautiful.” She chose it as the winner in large part for its “quiet, deliberate voice,” “energy of the language” and “experiment with chronology.” Sponsored by the North Carolina Writers Network, the competition is named for preeminent North Carolina writer the late Doris Betts. The award-winning author of six novels and three short story collections died April 21 at the age of 79.

A native North Carolinian and graduate of Western Carolina, Hampton lives in Waynesville with her husband, Joel Knisley, a purchasing agent in WCU’s Division of Administration and Finance. Hampton received a cash prize from the North Carolina Writers Network, and her story will be published in the North Carolina Literary Review’s 2013 issue.