The Story Prize Award!
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1. Anthony Doerr FTW! 2. Julie Lindsey (R), Anthony Doerr’s editor at Scribner, Nan Graham (L), and friends.
Not all of us were hobnobbing on the Upper West Side on Wednesday. I was hurrying to Union Square for the Story Prize award night at the New School. You don’t want to show up late when $20,000 is on the line, but that’s exactly what I did, grabbing a seat in the auditorium just as Anthony Doerr was beginning to read from his story “Memory Wall.” I missed introductions from Robert Polito, director of the New School’s graduate writing program, and Larry Dark, director of the Story Prize and also host for the evening. With all respect to what undoubtedly mighty fine introductions, more literary events should start with Tony Doerr reading stuff of his own creation. “Memory Wall” is from his story collection with the same name and the part we heard was smart and moving and introduced itself as well as anyone else could have.
This was the seventh annual Story Prize award and past honorees include short story heavyweights like Jim Sheppard, Tobias Wolff, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Every year, Larry Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsay read every submission — this year there were 85 — and three independent judges pick the ultimate winner.
1. How crowded, you ask. This crowded. 2. Storyville founders Ayul Sood, Jeff Goldberg, and Brendan Cahill. No, not that Jeff Goldberg. Yes, he’s a little bitter about it.
The stage was set up with a podium on one side and two squidgy chairs in the center. Each of the three finalists read first (at the podium) and then sat down (in the chairs) with Larry Dark for some conversation. Dark’s moderating skills were sharp from start to finish, but were an especially perfect match for Doerr’s genial wit. They covered everything from what makes a short story collection great to Doerr’s self-described “nerdy” interest in fossils to how writing a novel can be “like trying to hold onto pancake batter.”
1. Yiyun Li’s son still looks cute sleeping standing up. Ten bucks says you’re looking at the future POTUS. 2. Vince Czyz, Story Prize judge Jayne Anne Phillips, and Suzanne Rivecca, and her boyfriend, James Gavin, who recently sold a short story collection to Anjali Singh at Simon & Schuster. Vince has a very cool last name and is knowledgeable on many topics, including tequila.
Yiyun Li went up next to read from her story “Kindness” from her nominated book Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. She started by reading a page from William Trevor’s novella Nights at the Alexandria and explained that she’d done that because (1) Trevor is “one of the great short story masters” and (2) she wrote “Kindness” to “talk to” that novella. Afterwards, in conversation with Dark, Li said she regularly employs the technique of talking to other writers through her work, and all around the room MFA students nodded ferociously. The only person who didn’t seem to appreciate her many insights was one of her adorable sons, who had succumbed to the dark house lights and was sleeping on his dad’s lap a few rows away.
Also in attendance was the Suzanne Rivecca Fan Club, or so I’m assuming from the applause that greeted her as she read from her story “Very Special Victims,” which was so good that by the end, she probably could have sold membership cards and doubled her Story Prize winnings.
Anthony Doerr took home the main prize (!) with a gracious acceptance speech and Rivecca and Li each pocketed $5,000 as runners up. At the inordinately crowded private reception that followed, the guys who founded Storyville summed it up brilliantly: “There are no losers tonight. The writers all got prizes, and the rest of us get an open bar.”
–Kai Twanmoh is a regular contributor to Electric Dish.