Monday, December 29, 2008

Getting Less of Moore

Here's a book you won't see in U.S. bookstores: The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore. The hardcover volume, published by Faber and Faber in the U.K. in early 2008, includes all of Moore's previously published stories, plus three that haven't appeared in any collection: "Paper Losses," "The Juniper Tree," and "Debarking." Amazon.com (U.S.) lists the book, but the only available copies are from a third party for the hefty price of $129.77. In the U.K., it lists for £20 (about $29 at current exchange rates) and on Amazon there it sells for £12 ($17.50).

I had an e-mail exchange with Lorrie Moore earlier in the year, and she told me about The Collected Stories, which, alas, isn't eligible for The Story Prize because it's not published in the U.S. It came to my attention again when I saw that British short story writer Helen Simpson had named it in The Independent's yearend survey of 2008's best books.
I'm not sure why Moore's U.S. publisher, Knopf, didn't put out The Collected Stories here--I imagine a lot of readers would love to replace their tattered copies of Self-Help, Anagrams (published as a novel but now out of the closet as a book of connected stories), Like Life, and Birds of America with a single volume. It's been ten years since Moore's last book. I guess we'll just have to be patient and wait.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Story Prize Event. March 4. Circle It on Your 2009 Calendar

We know how fast your calendars fill up, so be sure to mark this date when you plan ahead for 2009:

The Story Prize event will be on March 4 at the New School's Tishman auditorium in New York City, starting at 7:30 p.m.

That night, each of the three authors chosen as finalists will read from his or her work, followed by an onstage interview. At the end of the evening we'll present this year's winner with The Story Prize. More details will follow when we announce the finalists in a couple of weeks. Resolve to be there if you can.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Video from the National Book Award's 5 Under 35 Reading

The National Book Awards has posted video from their 5 Under 35 reading on Nov. 17.

Francine Prose introduces Sana Krasikov, author of the story collection One More Year, and tells of meeting Krasikov and short story writer Yiyun Li at the Iowa Writers Workshop a few years back. Then Krasikov reads from her story, "The Alternate."


Sana Krasikov and Francine Prose @ 2008 5 Under 35 Celebration from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

A typically intense Mary Gaitskill introduces Nam Le, author of the story collection The Boat, and offers strong praise for the title story of the collection before Le takes the stage and reads from a different story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice."


Nam Le and Mary Gaitskill @ 2008 5 Under 35 Celebration from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Both of these stories, as it happens, were first published in Zoetrope: All-Story, and both authors studied at Iowa. Unfortunately, Jim Shepard, winner of The Story Prize earlier this year, was not on hand to introduce his choice, Fiona Maazel's novel Last Chance. Just her luck.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Remembrance and Results

- Rick Bass has written a nice remembrance of Carol Houck Smith, who (as previously mentioned) was the editor of his first short story collection, The Watch.

- The results, not necessarily final, of our Nov. 20 poll (How do you feel about short story collections that have introductions?) are:
43% take it on a case by case basis.
22% like introductions.
19% don't approve of them.
11% voted for Barack Obama (even though he has nothing to do with the question).
5% are indifferent.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Best Books: Adding It All Up (But Not Making Book)

If British bookmakers were to take notice of The Story Prize and lay odds on our finalists (as they do for the Booker prize), I'm sure the three short story collections that most frequently appear on 2008 best books lists would have the best odds. Going by the final tally of several lists, those would be: Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, and Nam Le's The Boat.

The Story Prize, however, doesn't choose its top three books by critical consensus. Rather, we read every one of the 73 books entered for The Story Prize and choose based on our own reading of those books. I get the sense that a lot of commentators, columnists, writers, and reviewers didn't read all that many story collections. And I'm sure some excellent collections probably didn't get a very wide reading.

In any event, we won't even know which three short story collections we're picking as Story Prize finalists until Julie and I meet to hash it out in early January. Soon after that, we'll also announce our list of other notable collections. So hold your bets.

For the tally below, I consulted 18 sources that named a total of 22 books. I counted inclusion in both the New York Times Sunday Book Review 100 notable books list and their five best books list because those appeared in separate issues. And I stopped counting as of Dec. 14. No doubt there will be more best of 2008 lists, but this isn't exactly scientific anyway; it just gives a sense of the critical consensus based on this sampling. The numbers on the left below represent how many mentions each book received. Here's the complete tally:

12 - Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
10 - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
9 - The Boat by Nam Le
4 - Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
4 - Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
3 - Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
3 - Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser
3 - Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
3 - Fine Just the Way It Is by Annie Proulx
3 - Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
2 - Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
2 - Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
1 - A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
1 - The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier
1 - Lost in Uttar Pradesh by Evan Connell
1 - The Deportees by Roddy Doyle
1 - The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
1 - I See You Everywhere By Julia Glass
1 - Foreigners by Caryl Phillips
1 - The Size of the World by Joan Silber
1 - Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
1 - Farewell Navigator by Leni Zumas

Sources (with links to the original TSP posts): Amazon.com, The Atlantic, Barnes & Noble Review, Bloomsbury Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Millions (and here), New York magazine, The New York Times Sunday Book Review (100 notable books and top ten books), NPR, Publishers Weekly, Salon, Shelf Awareness, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Time magazine, the Village Voice, and The Washington Post.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More Best Books, No More Best Books

The best of 2008 lists keep coming. Among the Villiage Voice's picks for best books of 2008 is reviewer Lenora Todaro's choice of Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.

The Library Journal site lists three story collections--Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, The Boat by Nam Le, and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout--among its 37 picks, fic and non.

Shelf Awareness asked five people (so far) for their top 10 books and one of them, Harvey Freedenberg, named Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.

In the Readerville forum discussing yearend best books lists, Richard posts that Bloomsbury Review contributing editor Jeff Biggers has named Annie Proulx’s Fine Just the Way It Is as an honorable mention for his book of the year choice.

In The Millions, fiction writer Brian Evenson lists Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters among his choices.

The Barnes & Noble Review (which I confess I didn't know existed) lists Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout as a best book choice of contributor and reviewer David Abrams.

There may be more to come, but that's it for me. I'm all best booked out. I'll post a tally soon of short story collections that appeared on these lists, and we'll see which short story collections got the most mentions.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Carol Houck Smith, We'll Miss You

One of the nicest people in publishing and a truly great editor, Carol Houck Smith, died on Nov. 29 in her Manhattan apartment at the age of 85. She worked at W.W. Norton, where her authors included Andrea Barrett, Ron Carlson, Joan Silber, and many others.

The picture to the right is from the reception following The Story Prize event in February 2007.
Carol had particularly wanted to be there that year because one of the finalists was Rick Bass, whose first short story collection, The Watch, she had edited.

Carol was a supporter of The Story Prize from the start, responding with warm encouragement to the announcement of the launch in January 2004, attending a small cocktail party for editors and publishers that spring, and coming to the first event in 2005, in support of her author, Joan Silber, who was a finalist for Ideas of Heaven--a great book made better through Carol's taste and wisdom, as everything she edited was.

I had first spoken with Carol several times in early 2001, when I was putting together Prize Stories 2001: The O. Henry Awards. I had decided to include three novellas* in that volume, one of which was Andrea Barrett's "Servants of the Map," the title story of a collection set for publication in 2002--several months after the O. Henry Awards volume would be out. To my surprise, Andrea Barrett informed me, a few days after I called to tell her that I'd chosen her story for the O. Henry Awards, that her publisher, W.W. Norton, did not want to give permission to publish "Servants of the Map" because they were concerned that it would cannibalize sales of Barrett's collection. In four previous years, I had never had an author or publisher turn down a chance to be in the anthology.

Andrea suggested I speak with her editor. So I called Carol Houck Smith and had a long conversation in which I did my best to persuade her that inclusion in the O. Henry Awards would likely help Servants of the Map reach an even larger audience (a somewhat shaky argument because after winning the National Book Award for her story collection Ship Fever in 1996, Barrett's books no doubt outsold the O. Henry Awards by a wide margin). Carol explained Norton's position, but she also listened with an open mind--something rare in my experience. In the end, Carol convinced Norton to allow us to include the story. I think what may have persuaded her wasn't my arguments but my passion for that particular story, which matched her own.

What I didn't know until later, was that Carol had "retired" several years before this. That didn't stop her from going to work every day and continuing to edit and nurture writers' careers. She was, throughout her career, a tireless advocate for poetry and fiction, a frequent presence at writing conferences, someone who constantly sought out and nurtured new talent, and a trusted editor and friend to many writers. Carol, we're going to miss you--the literary world is going to miss you.

* The other two novellas/long stories that year were Mary Swan's "The Deep" and the full version of George Saunders' "Pastoralia," both of which also ended up being the title stories of collections.

Addendum: Here's more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Few Among the Millions

Culture blog The Millions is running a month-long series of posts by writers who select their 2008 reading highlights, which don't necessarily have to be books published during the year.

Las Vegas novelist Charles Bock cites 2007 finalist for The Story Prize Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam and this year's Farewell Navigator by Leni Zumas. Math professor and novelist Manil Suri mentions a highly touted 2009 short story collection (due out in February) that he received an advanced copy of (for blurbing purposes), Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, as well as Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridege. And story writer Charles D'Ambrosio names Nam Le's The Boat.

More to come.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Short Story Collections Build Strong Bones

Salon asked a dozen writers to name their favorite books of 2008 and two have chosen short story collections. Curtis Sittenfeld has picked Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's Ms. Hempel Chronicles and Meg Wolitzer has selected Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge (which is moving up along the outside post as a dark horse contender in my overall tally of yearend best mentions).

In the case of both of these books, by the way, the publishers are rather cagey, identifying them on the cover as neither novels nor short story collections--which is what they are in my estimation. But this is nothing new. In the first year of The Story Prize, all three of our finalists (The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat, The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day, and Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber) fell into the category of connected stories or novels in stories and only one (Silber's) had the word stories on the cover. Why fudge it? Because novels supposedly sell better than story collections. It's kind of like those vitamins for kids--if they think it's a gummy bear, maybe they'll eat it.

Mix Books Redux: March of the Penguin

Harking back to a September TSP post and a guest post from writer and one-time music industry executive Paul Vidich, the subject of assembling digital custom anthologies has once again come up. As Leon Neyfach reports on the New York Oberver's Web site, as part of Penguin Group USA's Penguin 2.0 initiative, in 2009 customers will be able to choose from stories, essays, poems, and other "standalone texts" to create custom-made collections, then print them on demand. The article goes on to say:

"Taking sites like AnthologyBuilder.com and iTunes as inspiration, Mr. Gomez said, Penguin hopes the 'Custom' program will tap into people's desire 'to remix a little and to shuffle their playlists.' He cautioned, however, that he 'would never want to break apart an entire book' and thereby render the full-length volume obsolete the way iTunes has done to the 74-minute LP."

Surely, he must know that if this catches on, it could well deconstruct short story collections. As I said in September:
"Getting back to the iTunes analogy, I was recently thinking it would be great if you could make your own anthology of your favorite stories, poems, essays, etc., and give it to friends in the form of a bound volume, the way you make a mix tape or mix CD. Call it a mix book (a term already taken)."
Could this be the tipping point? AnthologyBuilder.com seems to offer mostly science fiction stories written by little known authors. Penguin Classics has an enormous backlist, including a lot of short fiction by authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, O. Henry, Washington Irving, Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Rudyard Kipling, Ring Lardner, D. H. Lawrence, Jack London, Somerset Maugham, Herman Mellville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, and collections by more contemporary writers including Dorothy Allison, Donald Barthelme, Saul Bellow, and Stephen King. Now that's a list worth reintermediating.

The Atlantic's Best Books List Sets Sail

The Atlantic has posted it's list of books of the year, which includes two short story collections out of six books:

Nadine Gordimer's Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black (which was actually published late last year and didn't make our short list)
Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge

The only other fiction title on the list was Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. I'm sure Senior Editor C. Michael Curtis, who has long edited fiction at The Atlantic and is a member of The Story Prize Advisory Board, had a significant hand in these choices.

(Thanks again to the good folks at Readerville, which seems to be as abuzz with excitement about yearend best books lists as I am.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Twenty-Seventh City Weighs in

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lists 32 notable 2008 works of fiction including a mere three short story collections:

Kevin Brockmeier's The View from the Seventh Layer (I knew this would make some of the lists)
Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth (again)
Cynthia Ozick'z Dictation

And St. Louis area booksellers that the Post-Dispatch polled list one collection:

Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters (which Subterranean Books chose)

Salon lists zero short story collections among it's five fiction choices.

New York magazine lists Nam Le's The Boat as its Best Debut book of the year, but story collections are a no show in it's top five fiction books.

(Thanks to Publishers Lunch for the links.)

Addendum (with a nod to Readerville): Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth is No. 5 on Time's top ten fiction list.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Story Collections Keep Popping Up On 2008 Best Books Lists

It's been a good year for short story collections, which continue to appear on year-end lists of best books. So say hello to some little bests.

The Los Angeles Times list includes six story collections out of 25 fiction and poetry books (only two of which are the latter). They are:

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Boat by Nam Le
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff

None of The Washington Post's top five fiction books are short story collections, but to their credit, the longer best books list includes a short story category with nine seclections:

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser
Foreigners by Caryl Phillips
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
The Size of the World by Joan Silber
Poe's Children an anthology edited by Peter Straub
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
plus: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (which they wrongly list as a novel)

The Christian Science Monitor (now Web only) also has a Best Short Stories of 2008 list, bless their hearts:

The Deportees by Roddy Doyle
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Boat by Nam Le
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
(They also list another book that could be read as a story collection:
I See You Everywhere By Julia Glass)

One story collection makes Alan Cheuse's idiosyncratic list of the six best fiction books on the NPR Web site:
Lost in Uttar Pradesh
by Evan Connell

Some of my favorites aren't on any of these lists. Sometime soon, I'll do a tally and ranking of all the short story collections that made end of year lists. Could that possibly predict the finalists for The Story Prize? Stay tuned, we'll be announcing those three books in early January, along with several other collections we liked.

In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me with any lists I may have missed at ldark@thestoryprize.org.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Unaccustomed Laughter

The New York Times Sunday Book Review has announced it's top ten books of 2008, culled from it's larger list of 100 books, as previously mentioned here. Five of the books are nonfiction and five fiction, including two short story collections: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser. Represent!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief Makes off with the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize

Congratulations to Hannah Tinti for winning the Mercantile Library's John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize* for The Good Thief (a result I learned on GalleyCat). As previously noted, Hannah is one of the three judges for The Story Prize this year, the editor of One-Story, and the author of a story collection, Animal Crackers. It's an accomplished book, well deserving of the honor.

*Hopefully, the Mercantile Library's Web site will soon reflect this outcome. As of the time this was posted (10:30 on Dec. 2), it hadn't. Speaking of which, the Rea Award for the Short Story still hasn't posted its latest winner--Amy Hempel--(announced Oct. 8!) on its site. Get on the stick, literary awards! We do our best to post The Story Prize winner within an hour or two of the announcement, and that involves changes throughout our site. We operate on a shoe-string budget, so I know it can be done.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Book Review Has Spoken

The Sunday Book Review has published its list of 100 notable books for 2008. Among the 48 fiction and poetry titles (six altogether), eight were short story collections:

A BETTER ANGEL: Stories
by Chris Adrian
YESTERDAY’S WEATHER by Anne Enright
UNACCUSTOMED EARTH by Jhumpa Lahiri
THE BOAT by Nam Le
DANGEROUS LAUGHTER: Thirteen Stories by Steven Millhauser
DICTATION: A Quartet by Cynthia Ozick
FINE JUST THE WAY IT IS: Wyoming Stories 3 by Annie Proulx
OUR STORY BEGINS: New and Selected Stories by By Tobias Wolff

In the Times' book blog, Paper Cuts, the editors explain the process: They started with a larger list of books reviewed during the course of the year (actually Dec. 2, 2007 through Nov. 30, 2008) and narrowed it down to 100. Duh!

In any event, as far as story collections go, these are very good ones--albeit obvious, mainstream choices. Lahiri's and Le's books also appeared on the Publishers Weekly and Amazon.com lists.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The 2008 Entries for The Story Prize

The final tally of books entered for The Story Prize this year is 72, from 55 publishers or imprints, adding up to a total of 973 stories. Between now and the end of the year, Julie Lindsey (the founder of the prize) and I will be doing a lot of reading in preparation for choosing our three finalists, which we'll announce in early January.

To select those books, Julie and I will meet and talk about the collections we each like best until we can settle on just three. Sometimes, we end that meeting without making final choices and take another day or so to think it over. It should be especially hard to narrow the field down to three this year because it looks like we'll have at least a dozen serious contenders. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

David Malouf Wins the Groundbreaking Australia-Asia Literary Award

Australian writer David Malouf is the first winner of the Australia-Asia Literary Award for The Collected Stories of David Malouf. He is the author of three previous story collections, as well as eight novels, six poetry collections, three nonfiction works, a play, and three opera librettos. The prize pays a generous $110,000 (Australian, which is the equivalent of roughly $62,500 U.S.).

The Australia-Asia Literary Award is for: "a book-length work of literary fiction written by an author resident in Australia or Asia, or a work primarily set in Australia or an Asian country. Works must have been either written in, or translated into, English and published in the preceding year." As one of the judges points out, this covers almost two-thirds of the world's population.

This is a very interesting book award--smart and daring--on several levels. In the first place, the creator and backer of the prize is the Government of Western Australia's Department of Culture and the Arts. It's hard to imagine any branch of any government in the U.S.--local, state, or federal--creating a literary award and funding it so generously. Secondly, not only print but also electronically published works are eligible--a very progressive notion. And finally, the award accepts entries of works in translation or with multiple authors (up to three). They've even established a split for translated works--$88,000 to the writer and $22,000 to the translator. That's always been one of the hurdles to judging translated work, and I think they are right to give the translator a share of the prize.

Another interesting feature is that each of the three judges has posted his or her notes on the Web site. This is from Pakistani writer (and University of Massachusetts MFA grad) Kamila Shamsie:

David Malouf is a writer of rare genius. Within the demands of the short story form he can give us a world containing a complex melange of characters, or he can take a single, seemingly insignificant moment and show all the depth and possibility it contains within it. There is tremendous power to his writing—regardless of whether he is describing a boys' encounter with nature or a woman's experience of heartbreak.

Malouf is a writer I've heard a lot about and, I must confess, I haven't read. We had hoped to consider The Collected Stories for The Story Prize last year, but we didn't receive an entry, probably because we require our finalists to attend our event, which could have been difficult for an Australian writer. In any event, some have compared his stories to those of Alice Munro and William Trevor. So I think it might be a good idea to catch up with his work soon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Charles D'Ambrosio: For He's A Jolly Good Lannan Fellow

Short story writer Charles D'Ambrosio has won a $100,000 Lannan Foundation fellowship. Past winners known for writing short stories include: Robert Coover, Edwidge Danticat, Lydia Davis, Stuart Dybek, Deborah Eisenberg, Mavis Gallant, Denis Johnson, Edward P. Jones, Steven Millhauser, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, George Saunders, Joanna Scott, David Foster Wallace, and John Edgar Wideman. It's a pretty impressive bunch, and that's not even the full list.

D'Ambrosio well deserves the honor. His 2006 short story collection, The Dead Fish Museum, which The Story Prize designated as a notable collection, is an excellent book. I particularly liked "The High Divide," "Drummond & Sons," and "The Scheme of Things," all of which first appeared in The New Yorker.

Authors who write short stories seem to do very well garnering literary honors, including the Whiting Writers' Awards and the MacArthur Foundation fellowships, in addition to the Lannan. It's when it comes to book awards for fiction that novels tend to dominate, which is one reason we created The Story Prize. Clearly, practitioners of the short story form (too bad there's not a term equivalent to "novelist") engender a lot of respect, which nobody can deny.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Author Introductions to Story Collections? Yea or Nay?

Many of the reviews of Stephen King's short story collection, Just After Sunset, have referred to King's introduction to the collection, which talks about when he was first starting out as a writer and wrote short stories, how he got away from writing them, and how editing The Best American Short Stories 2007 reawakened his interest in the form.

It's interesting to see how King's own summation has framed much of the discussion of his work. Many reviewers don't know how to talk about a short story collection as a whole. So, in a sense, an introduction can make a collection more reviewer friendly.

Still, most of the short story collections that I read don't have introductions. And those that do, tend to veer toward a genre, such as science/speculative fiction, horror/suspense, or mystery/crime. In some cases, a prominent writer in that genre will introduce another writer's collection, for instance George Pelecanos introduces Laura Lippman's Hardly Knew Her. (My intention is not to disparage so-called genres but to make a factual observation.)

In so-called literary short fiction, authors will sometimes introduce their own selected or collected works. For instance, Tobias Wolff opens Our Story Begins with "A Note from the Author" that addresses the question of whether or not an author should revisit (i.e. tinker with) earlier stories when putting together selected stories. (Notice he doesn't call it an "Introduction.") Wolff did, in fact, revisit earlier stories--and that's the sole focus of his brief note. And, like King's introduction, it has helped frame reviewers' discussion of his book.

Of course, ultimately, stories have to speak for themselves. And anyone who doesn't want an introduction can skip it. In addition, a popular writer like King often has a very public, ongoing relationship with his readers, who are likely to appreciate insight into his creative process. Truth is, you could ask why more writers don't share their back story and their insights with their readers.

Still, call me a traditionalist, but I generally like short story collections better without introductions. How do you feel about it?

How do you feel about short story collections that have introductions?
I don't approve of introductions--the stories should speak for themselves.
An introduction is sometimes okay. I take it on a case-by-case basis.
I like to read introductions.
I don't care. Readers can skip them if they want.
Barack Obama
pollcode.com free polls

Monday, November 17, 2008

Give Us This Day Our Daily Nada

There's a restaurant in Granville, Ohio, called The Short Story Brasserie. I stumbled on this unexpectedly when I switched to Google Maps on the heels of a Web search for "short stories." The inspiration for the restaurant? Ernest Hemingway.

In the words of proprietor J. Norman Housteau:
I always envied Hemingway’s hunger for life. He bound the words in his stories together with his passion for food, wine, friends and travel.... This brasserie is intended to bring a world of flavor and culinary adventure to you in the same spirit that Hemingway brought the sights, sounds and flavors of the world to my house. I have always wanted to be a professional writer like Hemingway. Until then, please enjoy The Short Story.
The menu carries through on the literary conceit with appetizers listed under Introduction. Chilled small plates, hot small plates, and large plates are Parts I, II, and III. Dessert is the Dénoument, and coffee, tea, and after dinner drinks are the Footnotes (very postmodern). Personally I'd go with Rising Action for the appetizers, Climax for the entrées, Anticlimax for the desserts, and Resolution for the after dinner drinks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nam Le's Christmas in Wales

Congratulations to short story writer Nam Le (The Boat), who is the winner of the ₤60,000 biennial Dylan Thomas Prize, which goes to a writer under 30 and is the U.K.'s largest literary prize. The result was announced on Nov. 10 at an event in Thomas' native Swansea, Wales, along with a special message from Welsh-born actress Catherine Zeta Jones. (I wonder if Renee Zellweger is available for The Story Prize event. )

The other finalists were: British poet Caroline Bird, South African novelist Ceridwen Dovey, British novelist Edward Hogan, and Ethiopia-born U.S. novelist Dinaw Mengestu. At 29, Vietnam-born, Australia-raised, Iowa Writers' Workshop educated Le squeaked by just under the age limit. At today's exchange rate, the prize comes to roughly $92,000.

From our partisan point of view, it's nice to see a short story writer win an award that's also open to novelists and poets. And by the way, on Nov. 17 Nam Le will be participating in the 5 Under 35 reading in New York as part of National Book Awards week. So far his youth seems to be serving him well.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Play on George Saunders' Words

"Carolyn, remember that RE/MAX one where as the redhead kid falls asleep holding that Teddy bear rescued from the trash, the bear comes alive and winks, and the announcer goes, Home is the place where you find yourself no longer longing for home..."
from "Jon" by George Saunders
President-elect Barack Obama is not the only show in town in Chicago. At the Building Stage, from now through Dec. 14, you can see a theatrical version of George Saunders' short story "Jon" (pictured above), adapted and directed by Seth Bockley of Collaboraction. The story is one of my favorites by Saunders, who read from it at our award night on Feb. 28, 2007, when In Persuasion Nation was a finalist for The Story Prize.

A lot of stories have been made into movies, and many I've read would be great for the stage, so I hope to see this happen more often. Here's the description of the play, which serves as a pretty good summary of the story, as well:
Jon is a futuristic allegory about teenage love and self-discovery in a corporate universe where television commercials replace life experiences.
Try it, you'll like it. I bet it's M'm M'm good.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Let the End of Year Listmaking Begin

It's early November and already a couple of lists of the year's best books are out.

Publishers Weekly has a fiction list of 25 books including three short story collections: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Boat by Nam Le, and Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock.

Amazon has several numbered lists to scroll through. Their editors' list of the top 100 books--of all types--includes five short story collections. Knockemstiff is the highest ranked, at #21. The Boat is at #29. And Unaccustomed Earth is ranked #39. The other two books in the top 100 are Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (#53) and Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (#95). Lahiri's book is ranked 18th on the readers' top 100 and #2 on the readers' Literature & Fiction list. Pollock's collection is #10 on the editors' Literature & Fiction list.

These are all good books. But I can think of several excellent collections that didn't make the cut. The list of winners and finalists that we announce in early January, will include our choices. In the meantime, I'll keep my eye out for other yearend best ofs.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stephen King's Latest Equals 90+ Ordinary Short Story Collections

Here's a bit of news from Publishers Weekly:

Reflecting a market in which publishers are significantly reining in their printings, Stephen King’s Just After Sunset arrives Tuesday, November 11, with a 900,000 copy announced printing, down from the 1.25 million copies projected last summer.

I'm sure that may be disappointing to King and Scribner. But, if you figure that the average print run for a hardcover short story collection is probably under 10,000 (most far under), that means the print run for King's book is roughly equal to the combined run of 90 typical short story collections. That's more than the total number we'll receive as submissions to The Story Prize in 2008.

Put another way, if you were to place all of the printed copies of Just After Sunset on one side of a scale and all of the printed copies of nearly every other short story collection published in the U.S. this year on the other, the scale would probably tip King's way. I say nearly all, because Jhump Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, which for one week (lest we forget) sat atop the New York Times Best-Seller List, no doubt has far more than the average number of copies in print. If Just After Sunset reaches the top of the list in the weeks ahead, that will make two stoy collections at No. 1 in 2008. Not bad for a form many consider to be foundering.

Given King's megapopulatity, it's great that he writes stories because it means that many more people will read them. In fact, I'd guess that, given the powerhouse sales of his book and Lahiri's, more Americans will read a short story collection this year than any past year. King has been a generous supporter of short fiction and of other writers' collections. He also writes some darned good stories. So, literary readers, don't hate him because he's popular.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

The deadline for entries of short story collections published from August through December of this year is Nov. 14. If finished books aren't available for those with late November or December pub. dates, bound galleys are acceptable. Entry forms and guidelines are available on The Story Prize Web site. Some great books have come our way so far this year, and we're hoping to read several more.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bond. James Bond. Short Stories.

A new James Bond film is due out this month, and it borrows its title from an Ian Fleming short story, "Quantum of Solace." In the Guardian, Andrew Lycett traces the real story behind the story that inspired the film that actually has little to do with the story. Lycett also explains the curious title which refers to:

"...a precise equation of the amount of comfort necessary between two people if love is to flourish. If this figure is zero, there can be no love."

Huh? Is it kind of like an intimacy credit score? Is there such a thing as a subprime relationship?

"Quantum of Solace" was originally included in Fleming's 1960 collection of Bond stories For Your Eyes Only and is the title story of the newly released Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Stories--no doubt a good read. Alas, only living authors are eligible for The Story Prize. So, Miss Moneypenny, this is one we won't be considering.

Ed Park on Stories about Stories

On the L.A. Times Web site, in the first of two installments, Ed Park declaims on short stories included in two collections. The headline is: "The Glorious, Oft-Overlooked, Short Story." (Not sure about that second comma.) The two stories are "On Skua Island," by John Langan, from Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (Prime) and "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,' by Benjamin Rosenbaum," by Benjamin Rosenbaum from The Aunt King and Other Stories (Small Beer Press). Langan's book is scheduled to be published later this month. Rosenbaum's book is available as a free download or in book form.

The focus of Park's column is stories about stories. As he says:
What connects them is their playful interrogation -- sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring -- of the short story form. They jolt us into fresh ways of reading.
Focusing in detail on a particular story is an original and interesting approach to discussing a collection, and I think it works very well. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait another month for part II, because this appears in a monthly column, called Astral Weeks, that Park writes for the L.A. Times site. He is, by the way, one of the editors of the eclectic, snark-free monthly magazine The Believer and the author of a workplace novel, Personal Days.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dave Eggers, You Done Good

Dave Eggers, a member of the advisory board for The Story Prize, has won a $100,000 TED prize for his work in establishing drop-in tutoring centers for school age kids in cities across the U.S. Starting with 826 Valencia in San Francisco, he has done amazing work, shown real dedication, and inspired many people to get involved with a very good cause. Dave is perhaps best known as the founder of McSweeney's and the author of several books, including a very good short story collection, How We Are Hungry (the net proceeds of which continue to benefit 826 Valencia and 826NYC in Brooklyn).

In teaching kids to write better and fostering a love of reading and writing, these centers not only enrich the lives of the students and communities they serve, they also are quite likely helping to create the readers of tomorrow. And nothing is more essential to books, literature, and short fiction than an audience. So, thanks Dave, congratulations, and keep up the good work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Story Prize Judges, Part III: Hannah Tinti

This is the third in a series of three posts, each focusing on one of our judges this year for The Story Prize.

In 2002, Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha took an interesting and somewhat risky proposition and turned it into a successful literary journal, One Story. As the name suggests, each issue includes one and only one story. And every three months a simple pamphlet that's easy to slip into a pocket arrives in subscribers' mailboxes.

Tinti actively edits each story that appears, and the Brooklyn-based magazine has a reading series and a Web site featuring author interviews. Among the authors published over the course of 109 issues are: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arthur Bradford, Judy Budnitz, Ron Carlson, John Hodgman, Owen King, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Kelly Link, Roxanna Robinson, Dani Shapiro, Scott Snyder, Jean Thompson, and Kate Walbert.

Beyond the success and admiration she has earned through her work as editor of One Story, Hannah Tinti is also an accomplished author in her own right. She published a collection of short stories, Animal Crackers, in 2004, and most recently a novel, The Good Thief. Her accomplishments as a writer and her devotion to the short story, make Hannah an ideal judge for The Story Prize.

Addendum: Ron Hogan has a post on Hannah in GalleyCat, as does Maude Newton. Both have lots of links to other interviews and reviews.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Story Prize Judges, Part II: Rick Simonson

This is the second in a series of three posts, each focusing on one of the three judges this year for The Story Prize.

Rick Simonson has worked at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co., one of the U.S.'s leading independent book stores, since 1976. He founded and continues to help run Elliott Bay's internationally-recognized author reading series, which has presented writers from around the world since 1984. Rick is a founding board member of Copper Canyon Press and has served on numerous advisory boards and panels for the American Booksellers Association, the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Arts & Lectures, Seattle Review, the Miami Book Fair, and the Beijing Book Fair, among others. He writes a column, "Mist Place," for publishersweekly.com.

But all of that doesn't tell the whole story. Rick has established a national reputation for himself through sheer dedication, a love of books, a sharp eye, and indefatigable enthusiasm. The reading series at Elliott Bay isn't just a couple of authors a week; it includes book groups, play readings, and programs outside of the bookstore--at Seattle libraries and cultural centers--nearly every night of the week, year round. And he does all of this not to sell books but to sell what they have to offer.

Rick is someone whose opinion publishers and editors solicit and whose enthusiasm for a book can help it find a sizable audience. We're fortunate to have him as a judge for The Story Prize.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Story Prize Judges, Part I: Daniel Menaker

This is the first in a series of three posts, each focusing on one of the judges for The Story Prize this year.

Daniel Menaker has a long involvment with short fiction in several capacities. He was an editor at The New Yorker for twenty years, where he was the first to publish such authors as Michael Chabon, Michael Cunningham, and Jennifer Egan. While there, he also worked with Elmore Leonard, Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, among others.

In 1995 Dan left The New Yorker for publishing, joining Random House as Senior Literary Editor. After a stint at HarperCollins, he became Editor-in-Chief of the Random House editorial imprints in 2001, where he worked with such authors as Billy Collins, Gary Shteyngart, Colum McCann, Benjamin Kunkel, and Sister Helen Prejean.

On top of all of that, he's the author of two books of short stories--Friends and Relations and The Old Left--and a novel, The Treatment, which was made into a film in 2006.

Dan continues to contribute to such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, and the Huffington Post. Presently he's working on Can We Talk?, a book about conversation, and is the editorial producer and presenter for the online talk show about books, Titlepage (titlepage.tv). The program is currently on hiatus, but on the Web site you can view six hour-long episodes, each featuring a discussion with four authors. (Episode 4 includes Elizabeth Strout, author of a book of connected stories, Olive Kitteridge. And Episode 5 includes short story writer Nam Le (The Boat).) If you haven't seen the show yet, check it out. You'll learn how knowledgeable and insightful Daniel Menaker is about literature--qualities that will no doubt make him an excellent judge for The Story Prize.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here Come The Judges












Each October, we announce the three judges for The Story Prize. This year, we're thrilled to have former New Yorker fiction editor, onetime Random House Editor-in-Chief, and author Daniel Menaker (left); Rick Simonson (center) of The Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle; and author and One Story editor Hannah Tinti (right). I'll be posting more detailed information about each judge over the next few days. Suffice it to say, we think we have an exceptional and exceptionally qualified group of judges for 2008.

In the meantime, here are some answers to some questions you might have about the judges' role and The Story Prize's approach to judging:

How do you decide the composition of the panel?
Traditionally, each year one of the judges for The Story Prize is a writer. We alternate between an independent bookseller and a librarian for the second judge. We've had editors, critics, and bloggers as the third. And some judges have fallen into more than one category.

Why not have only writers judge, as most other book awards do?
We think having a more diverse group of judges adds an interesting dimension to the process. The short story doesn't only belong to writers. Readers, teachers, students, librarians, booksellers, editors, and critics are also part of the short story community. And we want to associate as many different types of people as we can and give a wider range of people a connection with the prize.

How does the judging work?
Each judge reads the three books that Founder Julie Lindsey and I choose as finalists in early January and then votes for his or her favorite. The process is confidential--we never disclose what book a given judge voted for.

What happens if each judge votes for a different book, resulting in a tie?
The judges also give us their second choices to serve as tie-breakers. If this, too, isn't definitive, and we can't break the tie after consulting with the judges, Julie Lindsey and I decide the winner. That hasn't happened yet.

Why don't the judges also choose the finalists?
There are two reasons for this. One is that, in our view, it's too much to ask of the judges. The Story Prize receives approximately seventy five entries each year, which would require a lot of time and attention on their part. We want this to be fun, not onerous. In addition, we believe a two-tiered system, in which we choose the finalists and then turn the final decision over to a group of outside experts to choose the winner, is the best way to do it.

Who have the judges been in previous year?
2007/8: Author/critic David Gates, librarian Patricia Groh, editor Megan O'Rourke
2006/7: Author Edwidge Danticat, blogger Ron Hogan, bookseller Mitchell Kaplan
2005/6: Author Andrea Barrett, librarian Nancy Pearl, critic James Wood
2004/5: Author Dan Chaon, bookseller Ann Christophersen, editor Brigid Hughes

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No Story Collections Among The National Book Award Finalists

Of course, I'm disappointed that none of the five finalists for the National Book Award for fiction are short story collections. There were some good ones this year, however, I don't want to tip our hand by saying what I think should have been in the mix. Still, the judges--Gail Godwin, Rebecca Goldstein, Elinor Lipman, Reginald McKnight, and Jess Walter--read 271 books, and having not read the same ones, it's hard to take issue with their choices. They deserve a lot of credit for devoting themselves to this task. My wife, Alice, was a judge in 2003, and I know what a huge, time-consuming job it is. In any event, at face value, it looks like the panel made interesting choices, and I hope this will bring more readers to what are sure to be very worthwhile books.

The finalists, by the way, are:
Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project (Riverhead)
Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba (Scribner)
Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (Modern Library)
Marilynne Robinson, Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Salvatore Scibona, The End (Graywolf Press)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Small Presses, Big Importance

Small presses, including university presses, deserve a lot of credit for supporting short fiction. Nearly half the books we receive as entries for The Story Prize come from them, and every year we read a lot of quality work outside of commercial publishing.

Some small press publishers are extensions of literary magazines, such as McSweeney's, Open City, and Tin House. Others are independent publishers, including Beacon Press, FC2, Graywolf, Milkweed Editions, Sarabande Books, and Small Beer Press. And then there are the university presses, some of which publish story collections every year as part of awards they sponsor. Among these are the University of Georgia Press (Flannery O'Conner Prize), University of Pittsburgh Press (Drue Heinz Literature Prize), and University of Iowa Press (John Simmons and Iowa Short Fiction Awards). Other university presses--including Carnegie-Mellon, LSU Press , and Ohio University/Swallow Press--simply publish a fair amount of short fiction.

Small presses often launch careers, sometimes resuscitate them, and also can sustain them. Having smaller organizations allows editors to take chances that commercial publishers most likely wouldn't. As a result, small presses publish more experimental fiction, and they can choose work primarily on the merits without necessarily having to calculate how promotable a book or author is. On the other hand, small presses don't have nearly the means to publicize work that big commercial publishers have.

In any event, here's a list of a dozen outstanding short story collections that we've read for The Story Prize:

The Smallest People Alive by Keith Banner (Carnegie Mellon)
Damned If I Do
by Percival Everett (Graywolf)
The Animal Girl
by John Fulton (LSU)
Human Resources
by Josh Goldfaden (Tin House)
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press)
Teach the Free Man
by Peter Nathaniel Malae (Ohio University/Swallow Press)
Michael Martone
by Michael Martone (FC2)
Mothers & Other Monsters
by Maureen McHugh (Small Beer Press)
Other Electricities
by Ander Monson (Sarabande Books)
Refresh Refresh
by Benjamin Percy (Graywolf)
Women in the Grove
by Paula W. Peterson (Beacon Press)
The First Hurt
by Rachel Sherman (Open City)

A good source of information on small and university press publishers is the Council of Literary Magazines and Press (CLMP). These publishers provide vital support to the short story, so it's well worth supporting them.

Amy Hempel Has Won The Rea Award for the Short Story

Amy Hempel is this year's winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, which is given annually to a living American or Canadian writer whose published work has made "a significant contribution in the discipline of the short story as an art form." The $30,000 award is not given for a particular collection or even a body of work but rather for the originality and influence of the author's work. A three-member jury of writers (which I'll supply when I get that information), chooses the winner.

The award started in 1986 and its winners are a who's who of American and Canadian short story writers. Last year's winner was Stuart Dybek. The photo to the left was taken at The Story Prize event in February. That's Story Prize Winner Jim Shepard (before he knew he was the winner) leaning over to greet Hempel, whose attention seems elsewhere. Congratulations to Amy Hempel for achieving this honor.

Update: It turns out the jury for the 2008 Rea Short Story Award consisted of Sheila Kohler, Margot Livesy, and the aforementioned Jim Shepard, which makes the choice of photo even more opportune.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Alice Munro at the New Yorker Festival

Here, from the New Yorker Festival blog, is a post by Andrea Walker, boiling down to bullet points part of an onstage conversation between Alice Munro and The New Yorker's fiction editor Deborah Treisman, which took place on Friday night, Oct. 4. Munro, despite the praise (deserved) that writers, editors, and critics have lavished on her for many years, remains modest and amusingly self-effacing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Steven Millhauser's Diminutive Ambitions

This Sunday's New York Times Book Review features "The Ambition of the Short Story" a back page essay by Steven Millhauser. I'll let it speak for itself and simply recommend Millhauser's short fiction to anyone who hasn't read his work before. He's a brilliant miniaturist and fabulist, though also much more than that. His novel Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright is an amazing book.

Millhauser currently has a collection out called Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories. In addition, he has published four other story collections: In the Penny Arcade, The Barnum Museum, Little Kingdoms, and The Knife Thrower and Other Stories. The title story of that last book was the second prize winner in Prize Stories 1998: The O. Henry Awards, brilliantly introduced by judge Mary Gaitskill. Millhauser may be best known to a wider audience for his story "Eisenheim the Illusionist," which was the basis for the film The Illusionist.