The news arrived via email: Local writer and Xpress Arts & Entertainment editor Alli Marshall learned in February that she’d been named the 2018 UNC Asheville Ramsey Library Community Author award winner. In that same notification she discovered that Jaki Shelton Green, former poet laureate of North Carolina, had made the selection. “I didn’t realize she was the final judge,” says Marshall. “Just the fact that she read my work is still blowing my mind.”
Accolades have begun to stack up for Marshall. In 2016, she was awarded the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize for her short story, “Catching Out.” That same year her story, “Structural Soul,” won the Shrewd Writer Award. More recently, at this year’s N.C. Press Association awards, Marshall earned second place for her reporting on (In) sightseeing: Hood Tours share the history and future of black Asheville, as well as third place finishes for both Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands celebrates 70 years and her headline writing.
Marshall says the Community Author award is particularly gratifying. “On a lot of levels it’s validation of the community-based work I do,” she says. In addition to her role at Xpress, Marshall also coordinates the local division of the North Carolina Writers Network and is a member of the Literary Circus. “I care a lot about the local literary scene,” she says. “So to have a place in it is a big deal to me, personally.”
The Community Author award will provide Marshall a yearlong residency in UNC Asheville’s Ramsey Library, where she’ll enjoy a dedicated study carrel and access to campus resources. She plans to complete a collaborative project combining the spoken word with local visual and sound artists. “I’m hoping there’s some way to work on that or some other project with people in the UNCA community,” she says.
Marshall also aims to further explore the Ramsey Library’s special collections. Its website, she notes, has been an ongoing source of inspiration. One of the poems she included in her submission to the Community Author award was based on a photo from the library’s East Riverside Photograph Collection.
UNCA Writer-In-Residence and bestselling author Wiley Cash was part of the committee that judged the initial round of submissions. Marshall states that his involvement played a significant role in her decision to submit a contest application. “I have so much respect for Wiley,” she says.
The feeling appears to be mutual. Cash offered the following statement in UNCA’s Feb. 26 announcement of Marshall’s win: “Alli Marshall has been a fixture in the Asheville literary community for years, so much so that her name seems synonymous with the term ‘literary Asheville.’ Her writing, whether it be poetry, fiction or essays, is expansive yet polished, and it possesses a voice that is clearly her own.”