University of Rochester

Gavin Named 1994 Winner of Lillian Fairchild Award

December 12, 1994

Thomas Gavin, a University of Rochester English professor and novelist, has received the 1994 Lillian Fairchild Award.

The award, administered by the University of Rochester, is customarily given to a Rochester area resident who has produced during the past year the best visual, literary, or musical work of art. Gavin was selected for his third novel, Breathing Water, the critically acclaimed story of a boy who claims to be the long-lost grandson and heir of a rich widow in a small town.

"The story's cynical, down-home charm is just a ploy to ease us into a serious encounter with religious issues," wrote the Los Angeles Times in a March review. The book is written in "prose as fine-grained and glistening as varnished oak."

Breathing Water, Gavin says, explores the roots of our belief systems. "How do you know what you know? What does it mean to believe something? These are central to my own thoughts."

Gavin, who joined the University faculty in 1980, first worked as a newspaper reporter before moving on to teaching, first in secondary schools and then in college, including Middlebury College in Vermont. Gavin was recognized in 1993 with an honorable mention for Teacher of the Year by the Students' Association. He has held creative writing and teaching fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and has been a member of the writing faculty of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference for many years. He also has taught at the University of Rochester's and SUNY College at Brockport's summer writing workshops.

Gavin's first book, Kingkill, was cited by the American Library Association as one of the Notable Books of 1977 and as an "Editor's Choice" by Time magazine. The Last Film of Emile Vico, published in 1986, was described by the New York Times Book Review as an "ingenious puzzle, as intricate as a set of Chinese boxes."

The Fairchild Award was established by Herman L. Fairchild of the University's Department of Geology in memory of his daughter Lillian, an accomplished designer who died of tuberculosis at age 32. The first award was given in 1924. Previous winners include Garth Fagan, director of Garth Fagan Dance; artists Joe and Colleen Hendrick; and sculptor William Stewart.