Crook’s Corner, the iconic 34-year-old café and bar located on a corner of the road separating Chapel Hill, N.C. from the adjacent town of Carrboro, doesn’t just serve up delicious Southern cuisine in a shack surmounted by a large pink plastic pig: it has also since 2013 been the only restaurant in the nation to sponsor a literary award, with this year’s pot set at $5,000. The Crook’s Corner Book Prize honors the author of the best debut novel set in the South and is open to both self-published and traditionally-published authors. Previous winners include Wiley Cash (A Land More Kind than Home), Kim Church (Byrd), and Tom Cooper (The Marauders).

The winner of the 2017 Crook’s Corner Book Prize will be announced at the restaurant on January 16, chosen from among three finalists: Paulette Boudreaux (Mulberry, Carolina Wren), Julia Franks (Over the Plain Houses, Hub City Press) and Matthew Griffin (Hide, Bloomsbury). The judge this year is Tom Franklin, a novelist living in Oxford, Miss. There were 47 entries, and nine authors and their books made it to the longlist.

Besides throwing more dollars into the pot this year, The Crook’s Corner Book Prize Foundation, the 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that runs the award program, has added a new ingredient: a bookstore display contest. The contest was open this year to SIBA member stores that set up a display showcasing the three finalists. The winner of the $50 prize this year is Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, S.C. The display contest will expand nationwide next year.

The goal of the contest, as well as the prize itself, is to provide more exposure for debut novels through the fall and winter months, explained Katharine Walton, who handles publicity for the restaurant and for the award program.

"The three finalists' books are also at the bar at Crook's for all customers to see and browse," she noted.

And, of course, as has been the tradition since the Crook's Corner Book Prize launched in 2013, this year's winner will receive a complimentary glass of wine upon each visit to Crook’s Corner throughout the year.

"That's an idea we stole from the Café de Flore in Paris," explained Anna Hayes, president of the Crook's Corner Book Prize Foundation, who conceptualized the award in appreciation of how Paris’ café culture intersects with the city’s literary life. "We modeled this award on the prestigious literary prizes given by famous Parisian cafés like the Flore and the Deux Magots, so the wine is a tip of our hat to our source of inspiration," she said.

Hayes explained that the decision was made to partner with Crook's Corner in launching this prize because of its history of chefs who also wrote books, beginning with founding chef, the late Bill Neal, who wrote several acclaimed cookbooks, and continuing through the current chef, Bill Smith, who has written two cookbooks.