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.