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2018 Award Winners

James Alexander Thom

Lifetime Achievement Honoree

Born in 1933 to Owen County doctors Jay W. and Julia S. Thom, James Alexander Thom gained his education in Indianapolis at Arsenal Technical High School and Butler University, which later awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

His journalistic career included employment at The Indianapolis Times and The Indianapolis Star, where he was Business and Finance columnist. He taught at the Indiana University School of Journalism on the Bloomington campus in the late 1970s.

His first published novel, Spectator Sport, appeared in 1978, followed the next year by Long Knife, the first of the meticulously-researched historical novels for which he is best known. This has been followed by Follow the River, From Sea to Shining Sea, Panther in the Sky, The Children of First Man, The Red Heart, Sign Talker and Saint Patrick’s Battalion. Thom’s novels have sold more than 2.5 million copies and most are still in print. Panther in the Sky won the Western Writers of America SPUR award in 1989 as Best Novel of the West. Today, Thom lives in a log cabin in Owen County where he continues to write, illustrate and sculpt. More information available at

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

National Winner

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and Newbery Honor Medalist of The War That Saved My Life, The War I Finally Won, and 15 other books for young readers. She was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., near the setting for her first novel, Ruthie’s Gift, and lived in Indianapolis for several years with her husband and young family until moving to a farm outside Bristol, Tenn., where she now lives. She has a grown son and daughter, five small nephews, several horses (most retired), a new puppy, and more cats than she ever thought she’d acquire. She loves to travel and to find unexpected stories in every-day history. Visit her online at

Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Regional Winner

Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso served as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis from 1977- 2013. She currently is the director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute. Sasso is active in the arts, civic and interfaith communities and has written and lectured on women, spirituality and the discovery of the religious imagination in children. She co-founded Women4Change Indiana in 2017.

Sasso is an author of two books for adults and 16 award-winning children’s books, including two starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and the 2006 Best Books of Indiana Award. She is the recipient of the Sagamore of the Wabash, the Heritage Keepers Award from the Indiana State Museum and The Spirit of the Prairie Award from Conner Prairie. She received a National Jewish Book Award in 2013.

She and her husband, Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso, were designated as Interfaith Ambassadors of the Year by the Center for Interfaith Cooperation in Indiana. Sandy Sasso was the first woman ordained from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the first to serve a Conservative congregation. She and her husband are the first practicing rabbinical couple in world Jewish history. Visit her online at

Deborah E. Kennedy

Emerging Winner

Deborah E. Kennedy is a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Sou’wester, Third Coast Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Hairpin, The Establishment, and The North American Review. Deborah has worked as a reporter, teacher, and editor, as well as a cookie packer, ice cream scooper, and children’s baseball coach. She also holds a Bachelor’s in English literature from Hanover College and a Master’s in fiction writing and English from Miami University. She currently lives in Forest Grove, Ore. Tornado Weather is her debut. Visit her online at


Elizabeth Klehfoth

Emerging Finalist

Elizabeth Klehfoth grew up in Elkhart, Ind. She received her BFA in creative writing from Chapman University and her MFA in creative writing from Indiana University, where she taught fiction writing and composition. Her debut novel, All These Beautiful Strangers, was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins (US) and Penguin Random House (UK) in July 2018 and is being translated into over half a dozen languages. It has been optioned for film by the producer of Gone Girl and Big Little Lies. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Visit her online at

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Emerging Finalist

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Call Me Zebra, published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2018 and in the U.K. by Alma Books in May 2018, and Fra Keeler, published in 2012 by Dorothy: a publishing project, and by Giulio Perrone Editore in Italy.

In 2015, Van der Vliet Oloomi won a Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” award. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a Fellowship from the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes in Barcelona, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Ledig House. Her work has been compared to that of Vladimir Nabokov, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rachel Kushner.

Van der Vliet Oloomi’s work has appeared in Electric Literature, The Paris Review, GRANTA, Guernica, BOMB, and the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, among other places. Call Me Zebra is forthcoming from Paralela 45 in Romania and Paris Yayinlari in Turkey. She is an Assistant Professor in the English Department’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame and lives in South Bend, Ind. Visit her online at