Karl Marlantes’s novel inspired by his experiences serving in Vietnam, Matterhorn (Atlantic Monthly), which took him more than 30 years to write, has won this year’s William E. Colby Award. The $5,000 prize is named for the late Ambassador and former CIA director and recognizes a debut novel or nonfiction book that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history, or international affairs.

In a January 2010 “Why I Write” essay for PW, Marlantes wrote that he began writing Matterhorn in 1975. He kept working on the novel in his spare time, unable to get an agent or publisher to even read the manuscript. “Certainly, writing the novel was a way of dealing with the wounds of combat,” he wrote, “but why would I subject myself to the further wounds all writers receive trying to get published? I think it’s because I’ve wanted to reach out to those people on the other side of the chasm who delivered the wound of misunderstanding. I wanted to be understood.”

Matterhorn received a starred review in PW and had an eight-week run on the fiction charts. Colby cofounder and bestselling author W.E.B. Griffin said, “Matterhorn is a powerful first work that defines the tragic cost of the Vietnam War in human terms. Marlantes’s breakneck writing style is both passionate and haunting, thrusting the reader into alternating moments of chaos and courage reflecting the fragility of our Marines on the ground – and their leadership – in combat.”

The award will be presented by Tawani Foundation in association with the Pritzker Military Library on October 22, 2011 at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel at the Library’s 2011 Liberty Gala.