Naomi Benaron

Naomi Benaron's first love is writing.

There's no question it loves her back.

She recently was named the Bellwether Prize for Fiction winner.

It's an honor that earns her a $25,000 cash award and the publication of her manuscript novel, "Running the Rift."

"I never had complete faith I would be able to win it, but it's a dream come true," she said.

Benaron, who has lived in Tucson for 15 years, fell in love with writing as a young girl, and though it's not her full-time job, it's her first passion.

"I'm in love with language. I'm in love with words. I love the sound of words. I can think of no greater joy than to create beautiful words on a page," she said.

In between writing, she juggles positions as a composition instructor at Pima Community College, a massage therapist and a freelance editor.

She needed 4 1/2 years to complete "Running the Rift," a novel about a young Tutsi boy living in Rwanda as the genocide of 1994 unfolds.

Benaron grew up in a house where issues of social justice were talked about openly.

Her mother, Doris Menzer-Benaron, was Eastern European, and they lost family members in the Holocaust.

She has always had the desire to write about a devastating tragedy to recognize the people who survived and died.

A novel about genocide was the result.

The Bellwether Prize, founded by author and one-time Tucsonan Barbara Kingsolver, is for fiction that supports literature of social responsibility.

Benaron's Tutsi boy is a runner who qualifies for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, she said.

"Running the Rift" should be published sometime in the next 14 to 16 months by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Benaron said.

She had a collection of short stories, "Love Letters From a Fat Man," published in early 2008.

Her next novel will focus on three generations of Holocaust survivors.

She will use some of her prize money to travel to the Czech Republic to attend a Holocaust reunion.

As for what she plans to do with the rest of it, "I'm trying not to give it all away," she said.

Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at or 807-8430.