Fresno State alumnus D. James Smith recently won the 2006 Edgar Allen Poe Award in the juvenile category for his book The Boys of San Joaquin, a tale of three kids solving the mystery of a half-chewed $20 bill.
Smith, a Fresno native who currently teaches at Selma High School, has a long string of publications, including poetry, short stories, and novels, according to MFA coordinator Connie Hales. His next children’s book, Probably the World’s Best Story About a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me, is due in August.
Smith told the Fresno Bee that he was “flabbergasted” with winning the award. He didn’t go to the award ceremony in New York, he said, partly because he’s in the middle of remodeling his Fresno home and partly because he was in the middle of standardized testing at Selma High. And, he was certain he wouldn’t win.
“It was such a long shot,” he said. When he originally mailed the story to his agent, “I was sure she wouldn’t even shop it. The [children’s] genre’s pretty tight.”
But the book–set in 1951 in Orange Grove City, a fictional stand-in for Fresno, and told in the manner of a Hardy Boys serial–gathered upbeat reviews for its distinctive tone and setting. Readers also like the pluck of the primary character, 12-year-old Paolo.
“If you have a voice, and you know the voice is right, the voice will take you where you need to go,” he said.
Hales said Smith earned his Master’s degree in poetry in the mid-1990s, just before the English Department switched to the MFA program.