Acclaimed author and New Orleans native Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the 2023 recipient of the Louisiana Writer Award, presented annually by the Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana. Ruffin is the twenty-fourth recipient of the prestigious award presented to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana’s literary and intellectual life exemplified by a contemporary Louisiana writer’s body of work.
A former corporate lawyer and restaurateur, Ruffin is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at Louisiana State University. He has published two books as well as dozens of short stories, poems, and essays with a primary focus on the lived experiences and history of the diverse Black community of New Orleans where he resides.
Ruffin is the author of The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You, which was published by One World Random House in August 2021. It is the 2023 One Book One New Orleans selection. The book was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, a finalist for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and longlisted for the Story Prize.
Reviewer Lauren Leblanc of the Los Angeles Times in describing The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You said, “Ruffin’s first career as a lawyer offers some insights into the role justice plays in his work. His analytical mind has revealed itself in nonfiction pieces published in literary journals, on gentrification, white nationalism and other threats to the communities he loves. But as with any true New Orleans artist, the message transcends Ruffin’s various mediums; up-tempo or blues, the song remains the same.
“Indeed, for all of Ruffin’s clear literary homages and influences, there are also, I sense, musical structures embedded in these intimate, often playful stories. The pieces function as movements on a theme, each touching different notes and neighborhoods. A sense of controlled improvisation allows him to lay claim to his city without resorting to either satire or pseudonym. It makes his book achingly truthful and incredibly accessible.”
His first book, We Cast a Shadow, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the PEN America Open Book Prize. It was longlisted for the 2021 Dublin Literary Award, the Center for Fiction Prize, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. The novel was also a New York Times Editor’s Choice.
In The New York Times, bestselling author and book reviewer Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah said of We Cast a Shadow, “At any moment, Ruffin can summon the kind of magic that makes you want to slow down, reread and experience the pleasure of him crystallizing an image again. The narrator’s intellectual style also allows for a lot of sentence-level fun. We’re never far from an alliterative flourish (‘flaky fried fowl fingers’) or a stroke of sudden beauty (‘I grabbed the knob with both hands, a transparent crystal bulb, a dollop of frozen light’) that makes us pause and say, damn, as we realize just how closely the narrator is paying attention to the world around him.”
Ruffin is also the author of the forthcoming historical novel, The American Daughters, which will be published in 2024 by One World Random House.
His writings have been translated into other languages, including Turkish and German.
Of Ruffin’s work, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Kiese Laymon stated, “Ruffin, more than any of the greats I read, searches for that idea, that style, that genre we think is impossible to do well, and he makes it look easy. What he is doing in these short stories is breathtaking. They are so singular and so reliant on each other for wholeness.”
Ruffin is the winner of several literary awards and prizes, including the Iowa Review Award in fiction and the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award for Novel-in-Progress. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Oxford American, Garden & Gun, Kenyon Review, and Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America. Ruffin was the recipient of the 2022 Louisiana Board of Regents ATLAS grant. Ruffin has taught at numerous residencies and conferences including Bread Loaf, Sewanee, Maine Media, Randolph College MFA, and Longleaf. Ruffin was a co-curator of the Read My World Literary Festival (Amsterdam) in 2017 and a contributor in 2022. Ruffin is also part of the Artists Network of Narrative 4, an organization dedicated to aiding the educational opportunities of young people by promoting empathy through shared storytelling. He served as the 2020-2021 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. And too he was the 2022 Grand Marshal of the Mardi Gras Krewe of House Floats.
While Ruffin credits countless authors for the inspiration of his work, including Ernest Gaines, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and Ralph Ellison, his primary inspiration is the people of Louisiana and, specifically, New Orleans. Ruffin wishes to pay his inspiration forward and has said, “My long-term hope is that my work will inspire and support the next generation of young, Black New Orleans writers to tell their own stories.”
Regarding the Louisiana Writer Award, Ruffin says, “This is the highest possible honor, and I accept it on behalf of all the storytellers of New Orleans and Louisiana whose stories are yet to be received."
Short works by Maurice Carlos Ruffin are included in these anthologies: