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Winner of the Center for Fiction's 2016 First Novel Prize

The hotly anticipated first novel by lauded playwright and The Wire TV writer Kia Corthron, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter sweeps American history from 1941 to the twenty-first century through the lives of four men—two white brothers from rural Alabama, and two black brothers from small-town Maryland—whose journey culminates in an explosive and devastating encounter between the two families.

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, in a tiny Alabama town, two brothers come of age in the shadow of the local chapter of the Klan, where Randall—a brilliant eighth-grader and the son of a sawmill worker—begins teaching sign language to his eighteen-year-old deaf and uneducated brother B.J. Simultaneously, in small-town Maryland, the sons of a Pullman Porter—gifted six-year-old Eliot and his artistic twelve-year-old brother Dwight—grow up navigating a world expanded both by a visit from civil and labor rights activist A. Philip Randolph and by the legacy of a lynched great-aunt.  

The four mature into men, directly confronting the fierce resistance to the early civil rights movement, and are all ultimately uprooted. Corthron's ear for dialogue, honed from years of theater work, brings to life all the major concerns and movements of America's past century through the organic growth of her marginalized characters, and embraces a quiet beauty in their everyday existences. 

Sharing a cultural and literary heritage with the work of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, and Edward P. Jones, Kia Corthron's The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a monumental epic deftly bridging the political and the poetic, and wrought by one of America's most recently recognized treasures.

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“Kia Corthron has written a magnificent, truly epic tale of the American Century told through the lives of two families, four brothers, three generations, big movements and small moments. It deserves a place among the great American novels precisely because it cuts to the very heart of America: the color line. In vivid, often breathtaking language, she reveals a changing world where love and sex and violence can rain down in the same cloudburst, and laughter and terror mingle easily, where the color line is not merely a barrier but a jump rope, a noose, a sign, and above all a tether that binds her characters and this country together.”

“There are whole chunks of writing here that are simply sublime, places in which one gets swept away by the way she subverts the rhythm of language to illuminate the familiar and allow it to be seen fresh ... [Corthron] blindsides you. She sneaks up from behind. Sometimes, it is with moments of humor, but more often with moments of raw emotional power—moments whose pathos feels hard-earned and true...[The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter] succeeds admirably in a novel's first and most difficult task: It makes you give a damn. It also does well by a novel's second task: It sends you away pondering what it has to say.”

“Kia Corthron’s first novel is a stunning achievement by any measure—a riveting saga of two twentieth-century American families trapped inside the quotidian contradictions and compulsions of race, disability, and sexuality. The untidiness of history is conveyed through experiences, dreams, and inevitable eruptions of violence, yet also unexpected patterns of escape and possible orbits of justice.”

“When I first read it, I was stunned. It's a haunting and devastating tale, leavened with humor and hope ... I believe [The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter] is the most important piece of writing about twentieth-century America since James Baldwin's Another Country.”

“In the tradition of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley and Alice Walker, she makes the personal political, creating an epic portrayal of race in America.”

“Playwright Corthron's big, open-hearted debut novel has echoes of noted writers from the mid-20th century, which serves as its backdrop: the social conscience of Steinbeck, the epic sweep of Ferber, the narrative quirks of Dos Passos. Reading Corthron's novel adds racial context to the classic works of these earlier writers. . . This huge novel has the intimacy of memoir; Corthron's narrative voice makes it easy for readers to immerse themselves in the book, rarely coming up for air.”

“This big, ambitious, challenging novel should have gotten much more attention. It tells the 20th-century history of the United States through the intersecting lives of two white brothers and two black brothers. It is, by turns, tender, brutal and redemptive.”

“What makes [Corthron's] drama an occasion of great joy... is the presence of a unique and powerful voice in the theater. Not since the emergence of August Wilson has there been a playwright who has created language in such a fever of fervent poetry.”

“Kia is in the dimensionality of her creations. Her people live in ideas, and also in bodies, in feelings, in specific communities, in specific parts of town. And they live in their words, their dazzling language, Kia's dazzling language... You can hear echoes of older African American writers like Amiri Baraka and Adrienne Kennedy, those most political and personal of playwrights, even as you are aware of another foundation, laid by British playwrights, social and political dramatists, over the past several decades, a tradition that Kia is Americanizing and making sound altogether new.”

The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a stunning novel. Kia Corthron plunges us into generations of American history, moving with force and subtlety through the charged realities of race, gender and region. It is a novel of ideas and politics, of psychological complexity and of vibrant, kinetic language.”

blog — December 07

The Winner of The Center for Fiction’s 2016 First Novel Prize Is . . .

Drumroll please! The winner of the Center for Fiction’s 2016 First Novel Prize is . . . . . . .


Kia Corthron’s The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter!

A distinguished playwright and  winner of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for her work in the theater, Corthron can no count herself among the giants of the contemporary novel, too.

"I didn't know it was going to be an epic-length book!” Corthron told Elle back in January. But an epic it is. At 800 pages, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter brings the big novel back to life, deftly bridging the political and the poetic in its sweeping look at family, race and loss over the course of an American half-century. We couldn’t be happier that the book has received such a deserved honor from The Center for Fiction.

About the Book:

Kia Corthron's The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter covers an incredible swath of American history, from 1941 to the twenty-first century, through the lives of four men—two white brothers from rural Alabama, and two black brothers from small-town Maryland—whose journey culminates in an explosive and devastating encounter between the two families.

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, in a tiny Alabama town, two brothers come of age in the shadow of the local chapter of the Klan, where Randall—a brilliant eighth-grader and the son of a sawmill worker--begins teaching sign language to his eighteen-year-old deaf and uneducated brother B.J. Simultaneously, in small-town Maryland, the sons of a Pullman Porter—gifted six-year-old Eliot and his artistic twelve-year-old brother Dwight—grow up navigating a world expanded both by a visit from civil and labor rights activist A. Philip Randolph and by the legacy of a lynched great-aunt.

The four mature into men, directly confronting the fierce resistance to the early civil rights movement, and are all ultimately uprooted. Corthron's ear for dialogue, honed from years of theater work, brings to life all the major concerns and movements of America's past century through the organic growth of her marginalized characters, and embraces a quiet beauty in their everyday existences.

Sharing a cultural and literary heritage with the work of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, and Edward P. Jones, Kia Corthron's The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a monumental epic deftly bridging the political and the poetic, and wrought by one of America's most recently recognized treasures.

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The author of more than fifteen plays produced nationally and internationally, Kia Corthron came to national attention in the early nineties with her play Come Down Burning. Portraying characters who live in extreme poverty or crisis and whose lives are otherwise invisible, her plays paint a disturbing picture of American history and its repercussions on our most intimate relationships. Corthron's most recent awards include a Windham Campbell Prize for Drama, the Simon Great Plains Playwright (Honored Playwright) Award, the USA Jane Addams Fellowship Award, and the Lee Reynolds Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women, and she has developed work through various international residencies. She has also written for television, receiving a Writers Guild Outstanding Drama Series Award and an Edgar Award for The Wire. She grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, and now lives in Harlem, New York City.