George Saunders Wins The Story Prize for “Tenth of December”

The Story Prize celebrated its 10th anniversary last night, awarding author George Saunders $20,000 for his most recent collection, Tenth of December. Runners-up Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel, and Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories, were awarded $5,000 each. Saunders, previously a finalist for the 2007 Story Prize with his collection, In Persuasion Nation, now joins a list of prizewinners that includes Steven Milhauser, Mary Gordon, Claire Vaye Watkins, Tobias Wolff, Edwidge Danticat, and Jim Shepard.

Story Prize director Larry Dark and prize founder Julie Lindsey selected this year’s finalists. There were 96 submissions for 2013, representing 64 different publishers and imprints.

The ceremony, held before a packed house at the sleek auditorium of The New School, was warm and illuminating. Each author read from his or her selected collection and afterward joined host Larry Dark for a discussion of their work. Craft was a recurring topic, and all three authors touched upon the enigmatic ways in which their writing comes into fruition.

George Saunders accepting The Story Prize

George Saunders accepting The Story Prize

Andrea Barrett, a MacArthur Fellow whose intricate and ambitious book explores scientific discovery at the turn of the 20th century, acknowledged she had little idea she was even composing a collection of linked tales until she reached her final story, the interconnection then materializing before her and echoing back through her work. Rebecca Lee, who makes rich use of Hong Kong, Nepal, and New York as backdrops to her wry domestic dramas, referred to place as the “deep aquifer” running beneath her fiction, from which inspiration springs. Saunders, loquacious, generous, and clearly comfortable in the Q&A environment, offered a succession of gems about his process, including the admission that all those uncanny details that stud his stories and inspire such praise often come about aurally–it is the pure sound and rhythm of the sentence that arrives first; the particular words fill in only afterward. “Tenth of December,” the title of his winning collection as well as the piece from which he read, was decided upon not for any personal significance, but because he needed a date in winter and enjoyed the way it sounded out loud.

In her closing statements before announcing last night’s winner, Julie Lindsey outlined the mission of The Story Prize plainly: to celebrate the short story and the artists who create them. Dark, in his championing of independent bookstore McNally Jackson and articulate, oft-hilarious dispatches from The Story Prize blog, clearly displays a deep love for the literary community. Last night, though Saunders took home the prize, one got the sense that the toast went to the craft of fiction. Here’s to another ten years.

Photographs courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan and Larry Dark.

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