2019 James Jones First Novel Fellow Selected

The 27th annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship has been awarded to Marco Kaye of Maplewood, New Jersey, for his novel, Levon. Kaye was named Fellow and a $10,000 check. The Fellowship is co-sponsored by the James Jones Literary Society and the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University.


Marco Kaye

Two runners-up were also selected. They are Latifa Ayad of Columbus, Ohio, for her novel The Realm Unknown, and to Lorinda Toledo of West Hollywood, California, for her novel The Nature of Fire. Each received $1,000.

The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” The Fellowship is awarded annually to a North American writer of a novel-in-progress.

Fellow: Marco Kaye holds an M.F.A. from New York University’s Creative Writing program where Lorrie Moore was his thesis advisor. His writing has been published in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s, among others. He is a copywriter and creative director.

Synopsis of Levon: Levon “Lee” O’Connell has every reason to hate being a teenager in the mid-90s. At age seven, Lee developed systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, an autoimmune disease. The disease has stunted his growth, confined him to a wheelchair and racks his body with unpredictable pain. Medical bills have driven his lower middle-class family into bankruptcy. To take his mind off his condition, Lee finds solace in his computer. He codes his own video games.

When Lee seeks help on a tricky piece of code, he meets Sunny, an acolyte of Deva, the self-styled CPR Guru. Based on the real-life Dr. Frederick Lenz, Deva introduces Levon to meditation, faith and his first source of income. Lee learns to heal himself. But Deva, and Sunny, aren’t all they say they are.

Latifa Ayad

Runner-Up: Latifa Ayad is a winner of the Master’s Review Flash Fiction Prize and the Indiana Review 1/2K Prize. In 2018 she was awarded a MacDowell Fellowship. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in North American ReviewCrab Orchard Review, The Normal School, and Whiskey Island Magazine, amongst others. She has worked as Assistant Fiction Editor for The Southeast Review, and holds her MFA from Florida State University.


Lorinda Toledo

Runner-Up: Lorinda Toledo was born and raised in New Mexico, where her family has lived for many generations. For more than a decade, Los Angeles has been her home.

Lorinda earned a PhD in Literature with Creative Dissertation from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where her fiction was supported by multiple awards, including a Black Mountain Institute Fellowship and a Barrick Graduate Fellowship. Her MFA is in fiction and creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles.

She has been fiction editor at the Witness literary magazine, and assistant editor in both fiction and nonfiction genres at Lunch Ticket. She has a background in print journalism and multimedia, and her work has appeared in such places as the Associated Press, New Mexico Business WeeklyAlbuquerque TribuneRochester Democrat and Chronicle, and L.A. Weekly.

She has taught writing, literature, and composition at UNLV, and is currently affiliate writing faculty at Antioch University Los Angeles.

The JJLS thanks the many first-readers of the more than 550 submissions, Joyce Anzalone of the Maslow Family Creative Writing Program for administering the Fellowship, the three final judges for 2019 and Don Sackrider, JJLS Board member, Charles Robb, who provided the seed money for the Fellowship. Both Sackrider and Robb were members of the Handy Writers’ Colony.