Horecka picked finalist for Texas book award

Three dozen writers from across the Lone Star State—including this weary blogger—were recognized during a recent awards ceremony by the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL), one of the state’s oldest and most respected literary organizations.

According to TIL president Sergio Troncoso, this year’s contest saw a record number of entries, all vying for the more than $25,000 in cash prizes given across the 12 award categories.

Troncoso—who rose from the son of poor Mexican immigrants to become a distinguished Ivy League scholar, award-winning novelist (several times over now), short story author and noted essayist, with works published in everything from academic journals and anthologies to Texas Monthly and The Dallas Morning News—hosted the awards ceremony held Saturday, April 17, in El Paso , offered virtually for the first time ever as part of ongoing pandemic precautions.

“I’m thrilled we had such a successful awards season,” Troncoso said. “I want to thank the judges for their work in selecting such a diverse group of writers as winners. All of these writers richly deserve many accolades for the high quality of their works, and as I believe this contest shows, the TIL remains at the forefront of identifying excellent literature by writers dedicated to their craft.”

To be eligible for one of the TIL’s annual awards, books must be published during the previous calendar year and authored by someone with strong Texas ties.

So it was that Bobby Horecka, author, gentleman farmer and newspaper editor, found himself among those honored in El Paso. Although not claiming the top award in its category, his Long Gone & Lost: Trues Fictions and Other Lies (Madville, 2020), got picked as one of two finalists for the TIL’s Best First Book of Fiction Award.

Author Marisol Cortez won that category with her novel, Luz at Midnight, published by Flower Song Press. Also recognized as a finalist in that category was Elizabeth Wetmore for her Valentine: A Novel (Harper, 2020). Having since visited with Troncoso, around five dozen books were considered for that first book of fiction award, making it the single most entered category in the 2021 contest.

Other categories included TIL awards for the best book of fiction, best book of nonfiction, best book of poetry, best first book of poetry, most significant scholarly book, best young adult book, best middle grade book, best picture book, best design of a trade book, best short story and best short nonfiction.

Complete lists of 2021 award winners and finalists, as well as past years’ award recipients, can be found on the TIL website at https://www.texasinstituteofletters.org/.

Horecka’s book is a short story collection, originally written as part of his Master of Fine Arts creative writing program at the University of Houston-Victoria. He landed his degree in December 2018 and, with manuscript in hand, got picked up by Dallas-based Madville Publishing a month later, in January 2019.

Given his news background, few of his stories stray far from the true-life events many are based upon, as is hinted in the book’s title, but if Horecka learned anything from his years in news—2021 officially marks 35 years since he landed his first story in newsprint while still in junior high—it’s that any attempt to fictionalize anything truly needs to be labeled as such.

“Although I would have loved to have taken home the top award in my category—along with $2,000 cash prize that went with it—I’m pleased my book even made such a short list, especially from such a prestigious organization,” Horecka said.

Also as part of the Saturday ceremony in El Paso, TIL also presented its coveted lifetime achievement award to Benjamin Alire Sáenz, a prolific Texas writer with more than 25 books to his credit, many claiming top literary awards, on a global scale, in their own rights. Plus, 14 new candidates were also inducted into TIL’s elite membership, including music legend Michael Martin Murphey, one of just a handful of Texas songwriters ever to be granted TIL’s exclusive, invite-only membership since the group was founded in 1936.


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