This caught my eye last week:

Announcing The Willie Morris Award for Fiction
This annual award will honor the author of the best book of fiction set in the Southern United States.

The winning book should reflect, in the words of Willie Morris, “hope for belonging, for belief in a people’s better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive.” [emphasis mine]

The winning novel will be chosen for the quality of its prose, its originality, and for authenticity of setting and characters.

The author will receive $1000, an expense paid trip to New York City, and be a featured lecturer at The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction.

The first award will celebrate a novel published in 2007, and the first lecture will take place in October, 2008.

It doesn’t say that the book must be intended for an adult audience, and so it occurs to me that surely there must be at least one YA novel from 2007 that fits the bill.

Maybe that’s just Looking for Alaska talking — I think Willie Morris would have loved the beautiful, impulsive, unknowable title character in John Green’s 2005 debut. And I think Willie Morris would have identified with narrator Miles Halter’s search for the “Great Perhaps,” which to me sounds a lot like what Morris was looking for when he left Yazoo City, Mississippi, for the University of Texas at Austin.

“Something different was stirring around in my future,” Morris wrote in North Toward Home, “and I would brood over the place where I was and some place where I would end up, and for days I carried a map of the University of Texas in my shirt pocket. I was bathing in self-drama; perhaps it was my imagination, which had never failed me even as a child, that sought some unknown awakening.”

(A bit about Willie Morris: If, like me, you’ve been even half-serious about newspaper journalism as a UT student in the past 40 years, there’s a good chance you’ve been through a “Willie Morris” period — lasting at least long enough to read North Toward Home and, in some cases, with no evident expiration date. The highlight of mine was the dinner he treated me to at Hal and Mal’s in Jackson, Mississippi, as I drove back to Austin after a spring of magazine internships in New York City.)

Anyway, a cursory search for 2007 YA and middle-grade titles yielded a few potential candidates for The Willie Morris Award —

— so if you know the authors I hope you’ll tip them off to this award (and the March 1 deadline), and if you can suggest other titles in the comments here, please do.