Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Official Announcement of the Finalists: DeLillo, Millhauser, and Pearlman


Three celebrated authors, whose collections span decades-long careers, vie for the richest top prize of any annual U.S. book award for fiction.

The Story Prize, an annual award for books of short fiction, is pleased to honor three outstanding short story collections chosen from among a field of 92 books that 60 different publishers or imprints submitted in 2011. The three finalists are:

  • The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo (Scribner)
  • We Others by Steven Millhauser (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman (Lookout Books)

The idea that the short story is a beginner’s form, one that novice writers cut their teeth on before turning to the more ambitious work of writing novels, is a common misconception. This year’s finalists for The Story Prize show that—to the contrary—top fiction writers often remain devoted to the demanding form of the short story throughout their careers.

Although The Angel Esmeralda is Don DeLillo’s first short story collection, the nine powerful stories, published between 1979 and 2011, echo quintessential career-long themes. The 21 ingenious stories in We Others by Steven Millhauser include seven newly collected pieces alongside selected work from four previous collections, going back to 1981. Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision combines 13 new stories and 21 previously collected stories, dating to 1976, from a career short story writer whose brilliant work has only recently captured much-deserved attention.

The Story Prize was established in 2004 to honor short story collections, which other major book awards for fiction often overlook, and is underwritten by the Chisholm Foundation. Although the audience for short story collections may be smaller than those for popular fiction and nonfiction, stories continue to inspire passionate and devoted followings in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The Story Prize’s annual event will take place at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. General admission tickets are $14, and student tickets are $10.

That night, the three finalists will read selections from their work, after which Director Larry Dark will interview each writer on-stage. At the end of the event, Founder Julie Lindsey will announce the winner and present that author with $20,000 and an engraved silver bowl. The two runners-up will each receive $5,000.

Previous winners of The Story Prize have been The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat, The Hill Road by Patrick O’Keeffe, The Stories of Mary Gordon by Mary Gordon, Like You’d Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard, Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin, and, most recently, Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr.

About the authors

Don DeLillo is the author of fifteen novels, including Falling Man, Libra, and White Noise, and three plays, in addition to the story collection The Angel Esmeralda. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2006, Underworld was named one of the three best novels of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2000 it won the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction of the past five years.

Steven Millhauser is the author of numerous works of fiction including Martin Dressler, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, and Dangerous Laughter, a New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year. His work has been translated into fifteen languages, and his story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” was the basis of the 2006 film The Illusionist. His most recent collection, We Others, comprises seven new and fourteen selected stories, written over the past thirty years. He currently teaches at Skidmore College and lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Edith Pearlman is the recipient of the 2011 PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the art of short fiction and the Wallant Award for fiction considered to have significance for the American Jew. She has published more than 250 works in national magazines and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, New Stories from the South, and The Pushcart Prize. She is the author of four story collections: Binocular Vision, which was also a finalist for the National Book Award; Vaquita, winner of the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature; Love Among the Greats, winner of the Spokane Fiction Award; and How to Fall, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Founder Julie Lindsey and Director Larry Dark selected the finalists for The Story Prize. This year’s judges are award-winning author Sherman Alexie, professor of Comparative Literature and translator Breon Mitchell, and curator of the Los Angeles Public Library's ALOUD Reading Series Louise Steinman.

For more on The Story Prize please visit our Web site at, read the official blog at, follow, or visit our Facebook page at

Here They Are, The Story Prize Finalists: Don DeLillo! Steven Millhauser! Edith Pearlman!

We're pleased to announce the books and authors we've chosen as this year's finalists for The Story Prize:
These are outstanding books by skillfull and accomplished authors, and we're thrilled to have them as our finalists. We read 92 short story collections from 60 different publishers or imprints in 2011. Quite a few would have made excellent finalists. It's always hard to choose just three books, and it will be just as difficult (if not more so) to compile a short list of other notable collections we read in 2011. Nonetheless, we plan to post our short list in a week or two.

A fine list of finalists: DeLillo, Millhuaser, and Pearlman

The Story Prize’s annual event will take place at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. General admission tickets are $14, and student tickets are $10. That night, the finalists will read from and discuss their work onstage. At the end, Julie Lindsey (Founder of The Story Prize) will announce which of these three deserving authors gets the top prize. Our three judges—Sherman Alexie, Breon Mitchell, and Louise Steinman—are reading the books and will determine the outcome.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Joseph Salvatore on Collections with Natural, Subtle, and Sublime Arcs

In the 61st in a series of posts on 2011 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Joseph Salvatore, author of To Assume a Pleasing Shape (BOA Editions), Runs through some of his favorite short story collections.

Is there a story collection you consider your ideal of what a collection should be? 
I love story collections. The place that each story takes you to, as well as the chance to take that journey in one sitting, is part of the seduction for me. When I was a kid, my mother took my sister and me to the library every week. There, I discovered and devoured books about Encyclopedia Brown, boy detective.  Each short story was a mystery and had a puzzle to be solved (an answer key was provided at the back of the book). I would read a single story at breakfast, or on the way to school, or in the back seat of the car, anywhere. After that, it was Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock mysteries—again, short stories I could inhale in one sitting. In junior high, it was Poe and Dubliners; in high school Hemingway's In Our Time. College was Carver, Beattie, Moore, Ozick, Hempel, Barth, Borges, Barthelme—the whole world of short stories finally introducing itself to me.

So many collections have deeply moved and marked me: Coover's A Night at the Movies, Moore's Self-Help, Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Hempel's Reasons to Live, O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Edward P. Jones's Lost in the City, Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, Means's Assorted Fire Events, Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. And on and on. However, there are two about which I feel certain I would allow one of my fingers to be cut off without anesthesia if I could have written either: Joyce's Dubliners and Johnson's Jesus' Son. Both books were never marketed as "a novel-in-stories," but both books have a natural, subtle, yet sublime, classical arc that is, for me, almost more satisfying in retrospect than it was during the reading. While reading Jesus' Son, for example, I never thought "How, by the end of this book, will the protagonist ever get clean and sober and find redemption and healing in a believable way that brings together so many of the themes that the author has woven together so cleverly throughout this entire collection?" No.  Rather, each story picked me up and carried me away, without a concern for the larger whole.  Once I finished the book, however, I understood that something else had happened to me.

In Jesus' Son, we start with Fuckhead (the only name to which our protagonist is referred) on a road to death (both spiritually and physically). We see him engage in all manner of self-destruction. But we sense that something else is going on for him—something more than merely getting high; he is, as William James calls it in Varieties of Religious Experience, a "sick soul." But moreover, he is, dare I say it, a pilgrim on a journey: searching for family, for vocation, for healing and home.  Once we get to "Happy Hour" (one of the least happy stories in the collection), Fuckhead reaches the center of Dante's  Inferno at a bar called Pig Alley: "The cigarette smoke looked unearthly. People ... gave up their bodies ... only the demons inhabiting us could be seen. Souls who had wronged each other were brought together here. The rapist met his victim.... But nothing could be healed." Johnson finishes that paragraph blending indirect dialogue with one of several direct addresses to the reader (who, it may be said, stands in as his Virgil) saying: "And what are you going to do to me now? With what, exactly, would you expect to frighten me."

The next story "Steady Hands at Seattle General" might function, then, as a sort of Purgatorio, where a horrific case of the DT's and an act of brotherly goodwill (a haircut) come together to create a liminal space for our protagonist. And finally, with the last story, a kind of Paradisio concludes the arc. "Beverly Home" brings Fuckhead to the end of his journey, a place where no longer is there the "knife dividing" alienation we've seen throughout, but rather a coming together and a healing: "All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them.  I had never known ... that there might be a place for people like us." (Chills ripple my skin as I type those lines, just as they did when I first read them.)

Dubliners, of course, has that classical arc, too. An arc that takes us from childhood stories such as "Araby" and "An Encounter" to the adolescent "Two Gallants" and, finally, to the impossible-to-praise-enough miraculous adulthood work of art "The Dead."  

Both collections have provided, for me, reasons to live.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jim Shepard's Literary Influences: Dracula Meets Lolita

In the 60th in a series of posts on 2011 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Jim Shepard, author of You Think That's Bad (Alfred A. Knopf), lists some of the books and authors that have fueled his writing.

It's hard to identify which books first made me want to write. (I never imagined I would become a writer, since that was something that seemed available only to people from other, tonier backgrounds.) I know I thrilled at about the age of twelve at the sheer narrative drive and invention of Bram Stoker's Dracula – I’d had been a big monster fan as a small boy, but mostly all I’d seen was movies -- and I remember, too, being stirred by how much viscerally charged and fraught material it seemed to be dredging up. I was hugely compelled a year or two later by Jim Bouton's Ball Four, for its breezy way of introducing the reader to an entire and arcane world, and for being so much fun while still making clear that it took itself, in ethical and political terms, quite seriously. Perhaps the biggest impact early on, though, came from a boxed set of J.D. Salinger that a family friend had given me for Christmas. At first I’d been disappointed by the gift – there weren’t even illustrations on the covers – but one day when I was kicking around my room, bored, I cracked one open, and was immediately submerged in those voices. I’d always imagined that people who wrote literature needed to sound like writers like Henry James, though I had only the dimmest notion of what writers like Henry James sounded like. Here was a voice that was urgently and comically colloquial and yet somehow never seemed trivial. That was almost certainly where I conceived of the radical notion that there might be hope for somebody like me.

Acts of grace?
From there I went on to endless other crucial revelations: in high school, for example, Ernest Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor. From the former I remember being floored by the extremely cool notion that, as Hemingway himself put it, a hard light thrown on an object softly illuminates the beholder: that you could write about someone that way. From the latter, I remember being dazzled by the dawning understanding that writing could be about an act of grace in the devil’s territory, and about the crucial usefulness of ferocity when it came to comedy, and one’s world view. And from there, in college, to Vladimir Nabokov, and to James Joyce, and Italo Calvino, and on and on and on.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Emma Straub: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s an Epic Short Story!

In the 59th in a series of posts on 2011 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Emma Straub, author of Other People We Married (Five Chapters/Riverhead Books), expresses her enthusiasm for big stories.

2011 was the year I fell in love with the epic short story. You know the type—a story that spans years on a single page, a story that somehow does the work that an entire novel might. No kitchen table love affairs here! These are stories that require time and elbow room. We’re not talking flashbacks here, two storylines that dovetail together at the end for a double-barreled epiphany. We’re talking a single-pronged story that starts in one moment in time and finishes at a distant point in the future. I want to spend the cold winter months holed up in my office, reading stories that could easily be three hundred pages long, and yet—miraculously!—are under thirty. Maybe my New Year’s Resolution will be to actually write one.

Here is a brief list of short stories that fit this gigantic bill:

Mavis Gallant’s "The Remission": Mavis is not afraid to subvert the reader’s expectation, and does so here, over and over again. The story lingers like an illness (I mean that as a compliment), where death is looming but still mysterious, its timetable unable to put on a schedule. Can stories about a death in a family be funny, and sexy, and strange, and unusual? Yes. Yes, they can.

Lauren Groff’s "L.DeBard and Aliette": Days pass, weeks, seasons, years, lifetimes. This more than any other feels like a novel to me, a whole truth split open. It is ambitious and ballsy and beautiful. I think that this was one of the first—if not the first—of Groff’s stories to be published, which is a little bit like a newborn child singing Tosca. It doesn’t seem possible, and yet, here it is.

Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist contemplate an epic view

Annie Proulx’s "Brokeback Mountain": Another love story, made famous by the film adaptation. It’s just as moving on the page, the language as rough-shod as the characters, their sweetness only truly visible over the course of their doomed and impossible love affair. The accumulation of time matters here, as it does in life, and the best memories are made even more poignant by our distance from them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Melinda Moustakis Goes Fishing

In the 58th in a series of posts on 2011 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Melinda Moustakis, author of Bear Down, Bear North (University of Georgia Press), runs through her writing process and how she put together her collection.

Which story in your collection required the most drafts or posed the most technical problems? 

I’d say that the story "Some Other Animal" was a beast to write. It’s one of the quieter stories in the collection and I usually start a story with a dramatic bang of a first line, or write with a hard-hitting voice, and this one is in third person limited. And the whole story is about restraint, about grieving, about the muffled onslaught of snow in winter. I felt as if I was trying to write it while blindfolded because I wasn’t relying on the usual tricks. "Some Other Animal" went through a long, piecemeal, revision process over three years. I think one of the last sections I wrote was the beginning section introducing the main character. Before finding these two opening paragraphs, I had arranged all of the sections in various orders in an attempt to find a way to keep tension because the pace is more of a slow dissolving, a melting. I asked over and over, “How do I get the reader to keep reading?” And this story went through so many titles, until I sat down and reread it and looked for any phrase or line that could work as a title and focused on this line of dialogue: "They'd make it to the arctic if a bear or some other animal didn't get them first." Finding the title, along with the wise suggestion given to me at a writer’s conference of “More dead moose! More blood!” helped guide me to the final draft.

What is your writing process like? 
I am usually writing toward an image that I can’t shake off. Or the rhythm of a voice takes over my brain. And I have to wait for this to happen. I’m not one of those people who write every day and I don’t write pages and pages and then go back and cut large sections. The thought of having to cut large sections makes me cringe. If the words are going on the page, they’re going to be as close as I can get them to the final draft at that time. When I revise, it’s finagling a word here or there, or moving sections and thinking about structure, adding sections. Some people relish the revision process. I dread it. So I do everything I can to avoid a lot of revision, although, stories often have a mind of their own and don’t cooperate. A teacher of mine once said, “The story is smarter than you are.” I’ve been thinking about this advice quite a lot recently while attempting to write a novel.

How did you decide to arrange the stories in your collection? 
I had a lot of help with the arrangement. Sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes to look at your work and find new connections. Nancy Zafris, editor of the Flannery O’Connor Award Series at UGA Press, spent a lot of time thinking about the order of the stories with me. She was the one who suggested I put the short short "Trigger" as the first story in the collection, a thematic preface that introduces the Alaskan wilderness and the themes of hunting, violence, and the burden of inheritance to the reader. Since the stories are linked, and certain characters reappear, I knew I had to space out the generations of this homesteading family. I also had to arrange all the different points of view—first person, first person plural, second person, third limited, and omniscient. Then I also had to think about structure in the stories. I was told that I needed to create a map for readers and show them how to read the collection, how to read the more experimental stories that use modular fiction. The book begins with the short-short, one module, and builds on this idea of modules throughout the book, with the most challenging story in terms of structure and its dark subject—"Point MacKenzie"—being placed near the middle.

What kind of research, if any, do you do? 
Most of my research is of the scientific kind. Checking on facts about wildlife and bugs and trees. I enjoy finding small, strange scientific details that I can include in my work.

If you dabble in any other non-literary forms of expression, what do you do and how does it inform your work? 
I think fishing counts in this category. I do some of my best listening, gathering, and thinking on the river when I go up to Alaska to fish with my uncle. I have a weakness for fishing stories and I’d say their structure informs my work—the tension of the line literally being informed by the tension of what might be on the end of the fishing line.

Have you had a mentor and who was it? 
I’ve been extremely fortunate and had many fantastic mentors and writing teachers over the years: Susann Cokal, Pam Houston, Lucy Corin, Stuart Dybek, Kellie Wells, and Jaimy Gordon.