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Alumnus Focus: Novelist John Hart ’88 Receives North Carolina’s Top Literary Award

by Bill Giduz
Joh Hart
John Hart talked about his writing at an Alumni College class during Reunion Weekend last June.

John M.H. Hart Jr. '88 was one of six outstanding citizens of the state to receive the North Carolina Award in 2013. Established by the General Assembly in 1961, more than 250 North Carolinians have received the award for their outstanding achievements in the fields of literature, science, the fine arts and public service.

Hart's citation reads:

"John Hart, a former attorney, landed on The New York Times best-seller list with his first published effort, The King of Lies (2006). With the release of his second book, Down River (2007), and his third, The Last Child (2009), Hart continued to appear on best-seller lists and became the only author to ever win consecutive Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America.

"Salisbury and Rowan County provided inspiration for his early books, with his fourth effort, Iron House (2011), alternating between the criminal underworld of New York City and the Tar Heel State.

"Hart's novels can be found in 70 countries, having been translated into 30 different languages. His other honors include the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, the Barry Award and the fiction prize from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Davidson College, his alma mater and where he serves on the Board of Visitors, presented him with a Distinguished Alumnus Award earlier this year. The University of South Carolina recently awarded him an honorary doctorate during graduation ceremonies."

Honored by Alma Mater

Hart also received Davidson's Distinguished Alumni Award at his Class of 1988 25th Reunion last June. That award recognizes living alumni who have provided leadership or attained recognition on a national or regional level within their profession or business.

That citation offers additional insights into his professional work, and efforts on behalf of his alma mater. It reads:

"It's fair to say there have been dark and stormy times in John Hart's life as he steered toward what would become his passion and vocation. As a French major, he didn't set out from Davidson to become a novelist, but all right vocations have a way of finding their way to the front of the mind, and for John, it was only a matter of time before his true calling, which is the call to write, became his priority.

"After Davidson, John found himself with a law degree and an accounting degree. He worked as a criminal defense attorney but eventually lost his desire for helping guilty clients and quit soon after he was assigned to represent a child molester.

"Later he became a broker with Merrill Lynch, but all along, writing fiction called to him again and again. Eventually it became a siren song too tempting to resist. Fortunately for John, his wife, Katie, was in full support of his idea to quit working and become a novelist. "Of course you should quit," she told him. "It'll work out."

"John settled into a carrel in the Salisbury Public Library and spent the next year writing what would become his debut novel, The King of Lies. It took him another two years to find a publisher, but once he signed with St. Martin's Press, John's career in writing hit the fast track.

"Pat Conroy said The King of Lies read ‘like a book on fire.' It was later published in 30 languages and is available in more than 50 countries. People magazine featured it, and soon the book landed on The New York Times best-seller list.

"John quickly followed his debut novel with Down River, another bestseller, which won the Edgar Award, named after Edgar Allen Poe and given by the Mystery Writers of America. His third novel, The Last Child, also became a bestseller and won another Edgar Award, making John the only author to ever win consecutive awards. The book received international recognition when it won England's Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. His success continued with his fourth novel, Iron House, which won the SIBA Book Award for Fiction and he's currently working on his fifth book.

"As his success piled up, John used his novels in a unique way to promote philanthropy by raffling off the chance to name characters in his books and fundraising through his book parties. His efforts have raised more than a quarter million dollars for the Greensboro Children's Museum and the LandTrust for Central North Carolina.

"Davidson has kindly benefited from John's service as well. In addition to his support of the Annual Fund, he has served on the Board of Visitors for four years. For these generous gifts of time and talent to alma mater, and especially for your acclaimed and noteworthy contributions to contemporary fiction, Davidson College is pleased to award John Hart Jr. '88 the Distinguished Alumni Award on the occasion of his 25th reunion."