History of
an Executioner

January 2020 • 117 pages

Miami University Novella Prize Winner

Shirley Jackson Award Finalist


For years the executioner has faithfully performed his duties in a provincial corner of the Republic, enduring the disdain of his fellow citizens. After an uproar over a botched execution in the distant capital, his work is suspended, and he begins disrupting the routines that have defined his life. When rebels attack the town, he must decide whether to resume his old ways.

With echoes of J.M. Coetzee and Dino Buzzati, History of an Executioner is a haunting fable about duty and labor, love and the possibility of change.


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Signed copies available at Downbound Books in Cincinnati, Ohio


From beginning to end, Clancy’s novella had me captivated with questions about love and duty, inheritance, community and work. I read this and thought about my father and factories and manual labor. Did I mention the gorgeous and restrained prose?

— Daisy Hernández, judge of the 2019 Novella Prize and author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed

History of an Executioner is a triumph of empathy, imagination, and lucidity. A haunting examination of a humble, civil-servant killer whose lonely existence has arrived at a crossroads. Is he the last of his kind? Would he even know how to be his own man? Could there be any escape from this life of blood and gloom? This first book by Clancy McGilligan truly swept me away—a stunning debut from a spectacularly talented writer.

— Skip Horack, author of The Other Joseph, The Eden Hunter and The Southern Cross

In powerful prose, McGilligan tells a fully inventive and engaging story. You’ll want to linger with the sentences and turn the pages. This is a haunting and hauntingly atmospheric novella.

— Olivia Clare, author of Disasters in the First World

With his first novella, History of an Executioner, Clancy McGilligan has written a dystopian tale with flawless control, compression, and, in the end, compassion. The story is, by turns, hopeless and hopeful, passionless and passionate, and always, always, interesting. I could not put it down.

— Richard Wiley, author of Soldiers in Hiding, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Clancy McGilligan creates an executioner who grapples with layers of aftermath and the ways these confine and liberate. This imaginative debut examines the meaning of consequence, showing how both subtle and dramatic changes create new challenges and pathways.

— Ravi Howard, author of Driving the King and Like Trees, Walking

History of an Executioner tells a big story in a small number of pages, and takes a new approach to the well-loved dystopian genre. McGilligan’s first novella is an imaginative tale of duty and identity which asks us to examine our own lives and careers, and begs us to take agency of our trajectories before it is too late.

Heavy Feather Review

History of an Executioner, a new novella by Clancy McGilligan, has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it renders a sensitive, touching portrait of life in limbo that resonates powerfully with those of us sheltering in place from a fraught and threatening world.

Atticus Review

I’ve heard History of an Executioner called “existential.” I would argue that it brings us to the verge of existentialism, the point where the protagonist must decide for himself at last, realizing that he actually does have a choice.

Another Chicago Magazine

At once familiar and at times intentionally disorienting, McGilligan’s sparse prose quickly draws the reader into this complex novella.

The Arkansas International


Southern Review of Books

The Adroit Journal

Q & A with Deborah Kalb


Heavy Feather Review

Atticus Review

Another Chicago Magazine

The Arkansas International


Kenyon Review’s On Books and Their Harbors