Morgan Talty, author of “Night of the Living Rez,” has received several awards this month. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Maine author Morgan Talty on Thursday added a National Book Critics Circle award to the accolades his debut collection of short stories, “Night of the Living Rez,” has received this month.

Talty’s book was awarded the John Leonard Prize for the best first book in any genre in a ceremony at the New School in New York City. In recent weeks, he also picked up the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a debut short story collection – and, at the same time, became a father with the birth of his first child.

“Absolutely stunned and grateful and so happy to have been awarded the John Leonard Prize for Best First Book in any genre from @bookcritics! Kci woliwoni! Congrats to all the other winners and finalists! This was even sweeter to get the news with baby Charlie in my arms!” he tweeted Thursday.

Judges from the National Book Critics Circle said, “these are heartful stories, and often sad ones, as the residents of Maine’s Penobscot Indian Nation Reservation struggle with addiction and poverty, but Talty’s deft touch provides humor and beauty in the face of despair.”

The 12 interconnected short stories are based on the Penobscot Indian reservation where the author grew up. Talty, who lives in Levant, just outside of Bangor, is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maine. He published “Night of the Living Rez” last summer to widespread acclaim. The book was included on numerous national “best of 2022” lists (Time, NPR, Esquire and Publishers Weekly, among others) and won a New England Book Award for fiction. It was also named a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction and The Story Prize, which honors American short story collections.

“Here, Talty is a master of the craft; he understands the narrative power of the short story form, its ability to serve as both a mirror and a compass,” the PEN American judges wrote in their citation for the $25,000 award. “These linked stories probe generational trauma and tradition with honesty, unrelenting humor, and depth, through memorable characters who ask, ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘How do we get out of here?’ Talty’s stories are made of fire and walk among us. May they walk for years to come and make their home deep in our canon.”


Amid the accolades, Talty has been focused on a different debut. He and his wife welcomed their son three days before the PEN America Literary Awards ceremony.

“I woke up from a nap to this news and was blown away, filled with so much joy, and then I exploded when I fed my baby boy,” he tweeted.

His Twitter feed this month has been a mashup of gratitude about his latest awards and photos of the newborn.

Talty is also working on his next book.

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