David Armand, October 2022
Louisiana born and raised, author David Armand is the 2022 recipient of the Louisiana Writer Award, presented annually by the Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana. Armand is the twenty-third 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.
Having worked previously as a drywall hanger, a draftsman, and a press operator in a flag-printing factory, Armand is currently assistant professor of creative writing at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he served as Writer-in-Residence from 2017 through 2019.“Whether I’m speaking from my perspective as his former teacher, his friend, his faculty colleague, a fellow husband and father, or another south Louisiana author, I am here to tell you David Armand is a treasure,” says 2017-2019 Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell. “Both in his writing and in his life, David is driven by honesty and hope. His memoirs, poems, and works of fiction lean heavily into these two themes, but they never blink in the face of hard times, nor do they shy away from the work it takes to persevere through those trials on the way to salvation. It’s rare to find a writer, or a human being, capable of being an honest example of that struggle. David Armand is that writer and that person, and I am very proud we are celebrating him for his accomplishments and for the person he is.”
In 2010, Armand won the George Garrett Fiction Prize for his first novel, The Pugilist’s Wife, which was published by Texas Review Press, a member of the Texas A&M University Press Consortium. Since then, he has published three more novels, three collections of poetry, and a memoir. His latest book, a collection of nonfiction essays, Mirrors, is forthcoming from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press in spring 2023.
Of Armand’s first novel, 2009 Louisiana Writer Award recipient Tim Gautreaux said that it was “a powerful Southern brew of violence and religion. The writing is intense, fast-paced, linguistically rich, well-crafted, and ultimately riveting.” The novel was listed by the Times-Picayune alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson (Gilead) as one of five "hot read[s]" in March 2012. Further, The Baton Rouge Advocate remarked, “The storyline is compelling [...] and the characters ring true. Armand’s writing is concise but also lyric […] and well-suited to the tenor of his tale.”
Harlow, Armand’s second novel, which follows a young boy as he searches for his father along the backroads of Louisiana, was listed as a top ten book of the year by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, alongside Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus, and George Saunders’s Tenth of December. A reviewer for that publication stated, “Armand writes in a comfortingly familiar literary voice that blends Ernest Hemingway’s laconic but rhythmically complicated explorations of the mysteries of masculinity with William Faulkner’s more fabulist, Southern Gothic twang. It’s a heady, seductively intoxicating combination.” The book was also reviewed favorably in the New York Journal of Books, Dallas Morning News, and Foreword Reviews.
New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash said, “If Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy had a literary child, its name would be David Armand. His novel Harlow combines O’Connor’s Gothic violence and sense of humor with McCarthy’s unforgiving landscapes and Old Testament themes. But while he pays homage to the icons, David Armand is his own writer, and Harlow stands alone as an incredible look into the oldest of stories: man’s search for his father. But rarely are fathers this wayward, sons this compelled to search, and their shared histories this soaked in whiskey, blood, and Louisiana clay.” An excerpt from Harlow was featured in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine, after which David was invited to read from his novel at the Louisiana Humanities Center in New Orleans.
His third novel, The Gorge, which was loosely based on a local murder case that made national headlines after Sister Helen Prejean counseled one of the killers on death row, was also reviewed favorably for its authenticity and sense of place. The Portland Book Review wrote, “Armand paints Louisiana with simplicity and darkness, carrying us through wide-open fields, houses that have been abandoned, dirt roads, and mystery. [It’s] nostalgic and whimsical without trying hard to be. The storytelling itself is as rugged as its country – meandering and beautiful.”
Most recently, Armand’s fourth novel, The Lord’s Acre, which explores religious fanaticism—particularly in what Flannery O’Connor called the “Christ-haunted” south—and the consequences of giving in to blind faith, has been praised by The Southern Review of Books, who called it “[A] realistic and hard biting portrait of an adolescent boy who simply wants to survive [...] [The] point of view is so intimate, so realistic that the reader will hope throughout the story that he will somehow turn out fine. That very hope, a gift to a boy who has no other reason to believe that life will ever be any better, is what makes Armand’s novel such a compelling read.” And it is this sense of hope that pulses throughout all of Armand’s work, no matter how dark the subject matter may seem. Poet Katherine Hoerth, author of Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots and Flare Stacks in Full Bloom wrote, “Every sentence was masterfully crafted, filled with vivid imagery, and steeped with emotion and meaning. It’s simply gorgeous. We follow the life of Eli and his parents through some difficult patches—homelessness, a troubled marriage, a questioning of faith—and just when things can’t seem to get any worse, they meet a man who could be their savior, a charismatic preacher and healer known only as Father. Set in the landscape of rural Louisiana, this book was one I couldn’t put down for both its art and its story.”
In addition to these novels, Armand has also published a memoir about being given up for adoption by his mother, who suffered from schizophrenia, and his reunion with her when he was an adult. It explores the failed mental health system in Louisiana, but also a son’s reckoning with who he is and where he came from. The 2018 Louisiana Writer Award recipient Sheryl St. Germain called the memoir “A gut-wrenching personal narrative of family love and loss. My Mother’s House is the compelling story of Armand’s relationship with his mother and also a penetrating critique of the American mental health system. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning what it’s like to lose someone you love to mental illness. Armand’s memoir, dramatic and fast-paced, has all the hallmarks of a fine work of fiction. I couldn’t put it down, and was sorry when it ended.” Bret Lott, author of Oprah’s Book Club Selection Jewel and former editor of The Southern Review stated, “This is a difficult story, well told. My Mother’s House is a tale of survival told by the son given up for adoption only to be brought into a family riddled with abuse; it is also the tale of reuniting with his birth mother, only to be introduced into even more difficulties. But within the morass of psychological maladies that breed, oftentimes generationally, further layers of trouble and sorrow, there is hope, and this story of a son’s trek through his life in search of the meaning of family is a beautiful one.”
Armand’s three poetry collections, The Deep Woods, Debt, and The Evangelist, touch on these themes of family, addiction, and hope as well. They are also poems about growing up in a small, hardscrabble town, but how the author’s turning to books and music and art was a way for him to escape. Of Armand’s poetry, former Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack B. Bedell says, “Good poems bring us home with them for a spell. They build trust over time and share their experiences with us bit by bit. Great poems, though, feel like home from their first line on. David Armand’s books are full of great poems. They are about fathers, and sons, and of a world so real you can smell piney woods and see steam rising off a newborn foal. The joys, and pains, of these poems are at once familial and universal, individual and metonymic. There’s not much more you could ask a poem to do, not much more a poet could deliver, than what Armand gives us.” Armand’s poems have appeared in literary journals such as Arkansas Review, The Texas Review, and others.
Armand has been recognized by the St. Tammany Commission on Cultural Affairs, which named him the 2016 St. Tammany Parish President’s Literary Artist of the Year. He was also named one of Gambit Magazine’s “40 Under 40” recipients, and he was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Activity from Southeastern Louisiana University.
David has spoken as a visiting writer at James Madison University, Southeast Missouri State University, and twice at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium at the Mississippi University for Women. He is also a frequent participant at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville and at the Louisiana Book Festival, where he has participated six times – in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2021 – and where he once introduced the first Louisiana Writer Award recipient, Ernest J. Gaines. He also has appeared as a panelist at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. In 2020, Armand was awarded an artist’s residency grant from the Shreveport Regional Arts Council. He has been interviewed in Oxford American, New Orleans Review, and on NPR for Susan Larson’s The Reading Life.
In 2021, the University Press of Mississippi essay collection Twenty-First-Century Southern Writers: New Voices, New Perspectives, edited by Dr. Jean W. Cash and Richard Gaughran, featured a critical analysis of Armand’s body of work, which was placed alongside essays about contemporary writers including National Book Award–winner Jesmyn Ward, as well as Michael Farris Smith and Louisiana authors Barb Johnson and Skip Horack.
Armand’s latest book, Mirrors, a collection of interconnected essays about being an adoptee and ultimately finding his biological father through a DNA test, will be published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press in 2023. The title essay, which was first published in Belmont Story Review, was named a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays 2020 anthology. Other essays from the collection previously appeared in Southbound Magazine, Deep South Magazine, Hobart, and The McNeese Review.
Most recently, Armand has completed a fifth novel, Walk the Night, as well as a craft memoir, Gardens, which details his journey from growing up in a small Louisiana town to becoming a nationally recognized writer. He’s also completed a full-length play, Late Shift, which is about his time working as a telemarketer.
Upon being notified of the selection, David responded, “As a lifelong Louisianan, I can't begin to express how much being honored by my home state in this way means to me. This is the biggest honor I've ever received for my work, and I am very much looking forward to representing our great state's cultural achievements. This means more to me than anything ever has in my writing life.”
David lives in Hammond, Louisiana, with his wife and two children.