Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why We're Happy That Our Finalists Are Finalists For Other Book Awards, Too

On Feb. 21, I learned (via Twitter) that the three finalists for The Story Prize this year are also finalists for two other book awards. Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda and Steven Millhauser's We Others are among the five finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. And Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision is one of five finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It's also up for the National Book Critics Circle Award (as announced earlier) and was a finalist for the National Book Awards in November.

One reason we established The Story Prize partly was that we believed the major U.S. book awards for fiction hadn't often enough recognized short story collections—and that the form deserved its own award. Rarely does a story collection win these prizes. PEN/Faulkner has the best track record in this regard, having given its fiction prize to two story collections in the past two years: Sherman Alexie's War Dances in 2010 and The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg in 2011, as well as three others in the past 20 years—for a total of five winners.

If you don't count Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which the publisher maintained was a novel, The Pulitzer Prize last went to a story collection in 2009—Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. Before that, it most recently went to a story collection in 2000, when Jhumpa Lahiri won for Interpreter of Maladies. But those are the only two books of short fiction that have won in the past 20 years—even 30 years. The last short fiction winner before 2000 was The Stories of John Cheever in 1979.

A short story collection hasn't won the National Book Awards since Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever in 1996, and the last story collection to win before that was Ellen Gilchrist's Victory Over Japan in 1984. However, readers did choose The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor as the best book in the NBA's first 60 years in 2010. And more short story collections seem to have been among the finalists in recent years.

Excluding Egan's book last year, the last story collection to win the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction was in 1998--Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman. Gina Beirault's Women in Their Beds, a 1996 winner (and also a PEN/Faulkner winner), is the only other story collection to win the NBCC award for fiction in the last 20 years. In my opinion, short story collections are harder for critics to write about, which is one reason I think this award is a tough one for short fiction entries to crack.

In any event, we're happy that all three of this year's finalists for The Story Prize have a shot at winning other awards, too, because we believe in these three books and wish them—and short story collections in general—as much favorable attention as possible. Good luck all.

(You can see DeLillo. Millhauser, and Pearlman read and discuss their work at The Story Prize event at The New School on March 21.)