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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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