West Hyattsville resident wins Mark Twain Literature Award

David Baldacci presenting Bill Beverly the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award on Nov. 30. Photo courtesy of William Beverly III.

BY ROSANNA WEAVER — On Nov. 30, West Hyattsville resident Bill Beverly received the prestigious Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award for his debut novel “Dodgers” — a crime novel about a group of street kids from Los Angeles whose journey to the Midwest turns out differently than they could have imagined. The award is presented to the author of a book published in the previous calendar year that “best embodies an ‘American voice’ such as Twain established in his masterpiece ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.’” Beverly’s competition for the award included Stuart Nadler and Don DeLillo.

Official events of the ceremony in Hartford, Connecticut, began with a private tour of the Mark Twain House, where Samuel Clemens, who used the pen name Mark Twain, lived from 1874 to 1891 and wrote many of his most famous works. Beverly describes the home as “a monument of exquisite taste.” The gas lighting, fireplaces and Tiffany tiles and glass gave the house a warm, open feeling even in a chilly New England December, observed Beverly. “It is a family home you might dream of, rather than a lord’s trophy hall.” He added, “I found it beautiful and moving.”

A reception in the Twain carriage house followed, and the evening concluded with a ceremony in the Mark Twain Museum’s auditorium. Nov. 30 marks the author’s birthday, which “happily, made a birthday party out of things,” according to Beverly.

Beverly, an associate professor in English at Trinity University, describes himself as “someone used to sitting in the back row” who finds the idea of awards ceremonies “viscerally embarrassing.” But, he says, “The moment was lovely.” Among the speakers were Pieter Roos, Roger Michel Jr. and Stuart Nadler “whose lovely book ‘The Inseparables’ was a finalist,” according to Beverly. The award was presented by best-selling author David Baldacci, whom the Mark Twain House & Museum website describes as “the impetus and benefactor of the competition and award.” Beverly read from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Dodgers,” then wished Twain a happy birthday. Beverly noted that after the awards ceremony, “we stepped out into an ambush of champagne flutes and birthday cake.”

Since its publication in December 2016, “Dodgers” has also won in the mystery/thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the British Book Award for Crime. Describing Beverly’s novel, Twain Award judge Walter Harrison wrote, “This is an important American book, which I think fits clearly within the Twain tradition, and squarely within the tradition of ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ … Don’t let the label of ‘crime novel’ fool you. Beverly has written an American classic.”

Beverly and his wife, author and marketer Deborah Ager, moved to West Hyattsville in 2002, into a neighborhood established around 1950 that still includes three original owners on the block. “Our street is white- and blue-collar, it is English- and Spanish-speaking, it is graduate students and retirees. It’s a good place,” says Beverly. “The men meet in the street with rakes or snow shovels or jumper cables, and the Cowboys guys denounce the Redskins, and the Redskins guys denounce the Cowboys. Even here, I don’t quite fit — I am loyal to the Bears.”

Back in West Hyattsville following the event, Beverly says he is working on his next book. The ending of “Dodgers,” according to Beverly, “seems to offer an easy entrance into another story — a bright and open door.” However, he added, “I am trying instead to chop a way in through the roof.” Perhaps fitting in was never the goal.