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Posts in "Jhumpa Lahiri" category

Story Prize Finalists

Story Prize copy

Out of a field of 73 books, the Story Prize has announced its finalists for 2008:

  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Demons in the Spring by Joe Meno (Akashic Books)
  • Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff (Alfred A. Knopf)

I am surprised by the Joe Meno nomination, but also delighted because I enjoy his fiction. Also, isn’t it fun to see a smaller publisher like Akashic sandwiched between two Knopf books? Unfortunately, I think he has the smallest chance of winning.

Only a third of the stories in Our Story Begins are brand new — the rest are snagged from previous collections — but in a year when a version of the National Book Award winner was published thirty years previously, I don’t think that hurts Wolff’s chances.

Unaccustomed Earth needs no introduction, or more publicity for that matter, but Lahiri is immensely talented and can write stories that appeal to both critics and mainstream sensibilities, a talent greatly needed in the short story world. But she would be such a shoo-in — remember the debacle where Unaccustomed Earth jumped the whole shortlist procedure for the Frank O’Connor award? — that to award her yet another short story prize is a bit of overkill.

I do wish that the Story Prize would start with a slightly larger pool of finalists: five would be a nice round number, or if they wanted to be contrarian, four or six. Shortlisting makes excellent publicity for short story authors who desperately need it, makes a better pool for short story readers to draw from, and makes guessing the winner more interesting.

The press release:

These three books were selected from among 73 story collections from 56 different publishers or imprints. Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Best-Seller List and was the unanimous choice for Ireland’s Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Meno’s Demons in the Spring was published by small press publisher Akashic Books in a limited edition with original illustrations by 20 artists from the fine art, graphic, and comic book worlds—and part of the proceeds are benefitting 826Chicago, a drop-in tutoring center. Wolff’s Our Story Begins includes 16 stories from three previous collections and adds ten new stories to the mix, representing a substantial selection of accomplished work by a master of the form.

The winner is announced March 4th, 2009. The prize is $20,000 (oh, and a silver bowl to boot!).

My prediction? Bet on Tobias Wolff.

Buy these books from Amazon: Unaccustomed Earth, Demons in the Spring, Our Story Begins

Frank O’Connor Short Story Award

The 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the heftiest cash prize in the literary world for the short form (35,000 euros), has announced its longlist. Thirty-nine authors from around the globe are nominated. Only one Canadian was up (no, it wasn’t Alice Munro) as opposed to fourteen British writers (!). But the nice thing about this award is that they actually make good on the their promise/goal of highlighting up-and-coming authors. On the American side of things, I’m glad to see Benjamin Percy nominated for “Refresh, Refresh,” although both Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth” and Jim Shepard’s “Like You’d Understand, Anyway” are obvious picks. (Tobias Wolff wasn’t eligible because “Our Story Begins” collected previously published stories).

I’m also glad to see Nam Le nominated under the Australian category for “The Boat,” which is his first book and which comes out this month. Roddy Doyle is up for Ireland, but his latest collection, “The Deportees and Other Stories,” is underwhelming. Anne Enright, who won the Man Booker Prize for her novel “The Gathering,” is also up under the Irish section, but since I haven’t read her collection, “Taking Pictures,” I can’t pass judgment. If you remember, last year the prize went to Miranda July for “No One Belongs Here More Than You,” and the shortlist was quirky, bypassing Alice Munro and favoring writers like the Israeli Edgar Keret. So it seems likely that an up-and-comer has a good chance with this prize.

Mark This One In Your Calendars

Over at Papercuts, Dwight Garner reveals that last night Jhumpa Lahiri soared into the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list with her collection of short stories, “Unaccustomed Earth.” When’s the last time a short story collection was #1? Glad you asked, because I was willing to guess virtually never, but then I checked this site, that lists all the #1 slots on the list since 1942. The last one was in 2002, with Stephen King’s “Everything’s Eventual” a collection of fourteen horror stories. Beyond that, in 1994 was James Finn Garner’s “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” (!?). Beyond that, I can’t find any.

But those two other short story collections have obvious niches — Stephen King perennially appears on the bestseller lists because he taps into the horror genre market, and James Finn Garner has taken already familiar fairy tales and rewritten them with politically correct themes (Little Red Riding Hood chastises the Wolf for his misogynistic language). So Jhumpa Lahiri is actually forging new ground, by not only putting a literary title at the number one spot, but a literary collection of short stories.

Unfortunately, I think it says a lot more about Lahiri’s commercial appeal than it says about the potential marketability of the short story form, but the side effects are still nice — events like this always give agents hope that maybe, just maybe, your short story collection will actually sell.

Of course, back in February, I quoted Steve Almond at AWP, who predicted this, at least in part: “There’s one profitable short-story collection published a year, and Jhumpa Lahiri already wrote it.”

Roundup

Bookslut interviews the editor of One Story.

Members of the Society of Slow Readers, take heart!

A discussion of another short story turned movie over at Columbia University Press — Eileen Chang’s story "Se, jie," which was turned into the movie "Lust, Caution." (via Conversational Reading)

A new issue of Bookforum is out, including a review of "The Girl on the Fridge," Etgar Keret’s latest collection of short stories, as well as a review of Nam Le’s "The Boat." Finally, check out the interview with Jhumpa Lahiri, whose new collection of short stories, "Unaccustomed Earth," comes out in April.

Jhumpa Lahiri Unaccustomed Earth

I’ve been enjoying an advance copy of Jhumpa Lahiri’s new collection of short fiction, Unaccustomed Earth. These stories don’t significantly diverge from her previous fiction, either in theme or tone or style, but they still are moving renditions of Indian immigrants torn between being American and being Indian. Of these eight stories, only three (so far) were published in The New Yorker, and, strangely enough, because more than half haven’t been seen before, I think that might help sales. In The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D’ambrosio, six of the eight stories were published in The New Yorker, and I think that was a reason for poor sales — people had already read most of what was selling for $24. For those of you who want a sneak peak at Unaccustomed Earth, I’ll offer this excerpt from the title story, which is not one of the previously published.

After her mother’s death, Ruma’s father retired from the pharmaceutical company where he had worked for many decades and began traveling in Europe, a continent he’d never seen. In the past year he had visited France, Holland, and most recently Italy. They were package tours, traveling in the company of strangers, riding by bus through the countryside, each meal and museum and hotel prearranged. He was gone for two, three, sometimes four weeks at a time. When he was away Ruma did not hear from him. Each time, she kept the printout of his flight information behind a magnet on the door of the refrigerator, and on the days he was scheduled to fly she watched the news, to make sure there hadn’t been a plane crash anywhere in the world.

Occasionally a postcard would arrive in Seattle, where Ruma and Adam and their son Akash lived. The postcards showed the facades of churches, stone fountains, crowded piazzas, terra-cotta rooftops mellowed by late afternoon sun. Nearly fifteen years had passed since Ruma’s only European adventure, a month-long EuroRail holiday she’d taken with two girlfriends after college, with money saved up from her salary as a parale-gal. She’d slept in shabby pensions, practicing a frugality that was foreign to her at this stage of her life, buying nothing but variations of the same postcards her father sent now. Her father wrote succinct, impersonal accounts of the things he had most recently seen and done: “Yesterday the Uffizi Gallery. Today a walk to the other side of the Arno. A trip to Siena scheduled tomorrow.” Occasionally there was a sentence about the weather. But there was never a sense of her father’s presence in those places.