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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hey, Don't Leave Out Short Story Collections

It's October, and you know what that means. No, I don't mean fall foliage, Halloween, Oktoberfest, the World Series, scintillating political debates, or the continuing collapse of the financial markets. We're talking National Reading Group Month--at least according to the Women's National Book Assn. They even have a list of Great Group Reads, but, alas, it doesn't include any short story collections. I can think of at least a dozen books that would fit the bill.