English professor wins national book award

The American Library Association awarded VCU English professor Susann Cokal’s novel a silver medal Printz Award earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Susann Cokal.

Sarah King
Staff Writer

VCU associate English professor Susann Cokal, Ph.D., recently received one of the highest recognitions in the country for young adult literature.

The American Library Association selected Cokal’s fiction novel “The Kingdom of Little Wounds” to be the recipient of a silver medal Printz award earlier this year.

Cokal, who holds doctorate degrees in creative writing and comparative literature, is an author of two previous novels: “Mirablis” (2001) and “Breath and Bones” (2005). Her third effort has received reviews from sources such as the New York Times Book Review, which deemed the work “rich, sumptuous,” and Publishers Weekly, which named it a Best Book of 2013. The Printz committee deemed the work “impeccably researched and darkly disturbing.”

Katherine Bassard, Ph.D., and chairperson of the VCU English Department also had praise for the novel.

“Susann’s novel has taken the youth adult literature world by storm,” Bassard said.

Cokal said she is constantly surprised by nice things that can happen, especially with the Printz honor.

“I didn’t believe it at first. The phone rang at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning and I thought it was some overzealous telemarketer. I was about to hang up when the woman on the phone told me that I had won a Printz award,” Cokal said. “Then everyone started clapping in the background and it occurred to me that maybe it was a prank and somebody was pulling my leg.”

“The Kingdom of Little Wounds,” set in 1572 in the fictional Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn, is the 576-page story of a seamstress, a nursemaid and a queen who plot against the patriarchal court politics institutionalized in their society. The novel was released in October 2013 by Candlewick Press and is one of four Printz 2014 silver-medalists.

Shortly after the Printz awards were announced Amazon ran out of copies of Cokal’s book. Cokal said this is typical after ALA awards are announced and more will be in stock soon.

Cokal said at first she was not actively working on “The Kingdom.” She was working on her two other novels and “glimmers of ideas” would come to her as her “ideas were percolating.” She said she always likes to have some kind of plan for her next project.

“It took me about eight years to write but I’ve been thinking about it for about 10 years before then,” Cokal said. “I started to get some of the ideas while I was in high school. I used to do a lot of reading about the Tudors and renaissance courts; it was always very fascinating to me.”

An old friend of Cokal, the associate publisher for Candlewick Press, ended up taking on Cokal’s third book.

“I asked my friend for advice about how to dump (my) agent and she said she wanted to read the book,” Cokal said. “I thought she was just being polite (but) … she called the next day and told me she wanted to publish my manuscript.”

Cokal will travel to Las Vegas for the Printz award ceremony and annual ALA conference in June, but it will not be the first time that she has had to travel for “The Kingdom.”

“I went to Venice for a week, and it’s similar to the setting of this novel,” Cokal said. “It’s very romantic — life without cars, they have boats and you have to walk everywhere, and so I got the feel of what it could be like to live in a city like that.”

“The Kingdom” is on sale in bookstores and Amazon.com for $22.99.


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