Gordon Stettinius photo
The selectors said: Dean King, a master of nonfiction writing long embedded in Richmond's literary landscape, is the author of five books, including Skeletons on the Zahara and a forthcoming work about Mao's long march. He also gives back to his hometown with lectures, readings and as a founding board member of the James River Writers.
Dean King, who grew up on Three Chopt Road and went to St. Christopher's School, says he lived something of a dual existence growing up. He was an Eagle Scout, lacrosse team captain and a good student despite occasional bouts of hooky. He also went skinny-dipping in the Ridge Top pool after hours and took his mom's car to Tappahannock to visit his girlfriend's school.
Once, in third grade at the now-defunct James River School below U.S. 60, he demonstrated for his class the Battle of the Crater by arranging toy soldiers in a diorama, digging a hole under the Confederate troops and using black powder to blow them up.
King notes that he's always had a thing for books, sports and girls, followed by music and food, in no particular order. His love for words originated with this grandmother's passion for The New Yorker and his mother's devotion to the New York Times crossword puzzles. She took him to the Belmont Branch Library to "roam the stacks and bring home piles of those little red biographies and Hardy Boys adventures."
At Westhampton Elementary School, he wrote and illustrated stories and turned them into sewn and bound books about the adventures of Boo Boo the bear. Later, a teacher at St. Christopher's introduced him to the Lord of the Rings, and other teachers added poet Ron Smith and novelists Gloria Naylor and E.L. Doctorow.
Joseph Conrad is also one of King's great influences. Conrad's novels cover territory similar to King's nonfiction journeys: a conflicted and contradictory writer of seafaring adventure (the biography of Patrick O'Brian); men's mettle tested by experience and nature (Skeletons on the Zahara, in film development); 30 courageous women who walked 4,000 miles across China with Mao Zedong (Unbound: A True Story of War Love and Survival, available March 2010); and an upcoming epic of the legendary family feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys (Bad Blood).
"I've always been very curious and tended to pursue interests with a certain vigor," he says. At the University of North Carolina, I played on a national championship lacrosse team, started a couple of magazines [most notably Bubba, a Clinton-era spoof], and walked across England twice, which
wwI plan to do again — well, half of it — with my family next summer. I've trekked across the Sahara and Wales and parts of England and China. I love an epic journey whether on the page or in life."