Photo of Brenden Willey

SAN FRANCISCO (September 25, 2019)—The editors of Narrative have awarded Brenden Willey the Narrative Prize, given annually for the best work by an emerging writer published this past year in Narrative. Willey receives the prize for his short story “Things That Don’t Keep a Lightning Bug Alive,” a richly lyrical first-person account of a boy’s experience of his mother’s defection and his father’s brave and gently humorous ways of countering the pain and lifting their hearts. Willey, who grew up in Kernersville, NC, writes about rural life with an eloquence, pathos, and wit that carry forward the inspirations of James Agee, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner.

In giving the award to Willey, Narrative editor Tom Jenks noted, “It’s very rare to encounter a fiction writer whose poetic gifts and mastery of form are graced with deep human understanding and sympathy. Reading Willey’s work is to enter a timeless and universal soulfulness, the fundamental and immediately recognizable place of all light and dark in the world, perceived and offered as a gift by an author whose care, modesty, laughter, and reverence quicken our lives.”

Mr. Willey is a graduate of the University of Oregon and of Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and a Packer Lecturer in fiction writing. He has taught creative writing at DePauw University and elsewhere and is the recipient of grants and fellowships from Oregon’s Literary Arts and the Elizabeth George Foundation. His stories have previously appeared in Narrative and in other notable periodicals. Currently he is at work on a novel and resides in North Carolina with his wife and daughter.

The Narrative Prize recognizes writers whose talent and accomplishments place them at the forefront of a new generation of storytellers. Previous winners include Paisley Rekdal, Javier Zamora, Sara Houghteling, Ocean Vuong, Austin Smith, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Nathan Poole, Natalie Diaz, Kevin A. González, Anthony Marra, Maud Newton, Alexi Zentner, Michael Dickman, Alma García, Saidiya Hartman, Mermer Blakeslee, Ned Parker, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, and Min Jin Lee.


Founded in 2003, Narrative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in San Francisco, is the premier digital publisher of outstanding fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Narrative publishes hundreds of well-known and emerging writers each year and provides an extensive, free digital library of works used worldwide by students and teachers. Narrative’s established authors include Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Jennifer Egan, Jhumpa Lahiri, W. S. Merwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Sharon Olds, and many others. Narrative is dedicated to advancing literature in the digital age by supporting the finest writing talent and encouraging reading across generations, in schools, and around the globe. Narrative is donor-supported and offered to the reading public for free.