introducing readers to writers since 1995

January 27, 2005

I Love an Awards Show

by Ron Hogan

I've always wanted to sit in the audience for a "Selected Shorts" show at Symphony Space, and last night I got my chance, as I attended the presentation ceremony for The Story Prize, a new award that bestows $20,000 and an engraved silver bowl upon one author of a short fiction collection each year. The nominees on this inaugural slate were Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber (also, you'll recall, a National Book Award nominee), Edwige Danticat's The Dew Breaker, and Cathy Day's The Circus in Winter.

Prize director Larry Dark was even more excited to be at Symphony Space than I was; "this room's like a holy temple of the short story as far as I'm concerned," he marveled during his opening remarks--then murmured, "It feels like my bar mitzvah right now" (to much appreciative laughter). Jane Curtin read Silber's "My Shape," Kate Burton read Day's "Circus People," and Sonia Manzano read Danticat's "The Book of Miracles." (If the last name sounds unfamiliar to you, you'll recognize her instantly as Maria from Sesame Street.) After the readings, prize founder Julie Lindsey came out to present Danticat with the bowl, after which there was a nice reception in the Thalia Café. I actually never did get to speak to Danticat or the other nominees, because I ran into Silber's four companions on the NBA fiction shortlist: Christine Schutt, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Kate Walbert, and Lily Tuck, who won for her novel The News From Paraguay. When she won, she remarked that she'd never actually been to Paraguay, and the government apparently got wind of this, because she's about to be flown over as a guest of the state. Christine introduced me to Stephen O'Connor, and I also ran into Caraid O'Brien, who works on Symphony Space's production team and will, knock on wood, have something to share with Beatrice readers in the near future...and then I discovered that Larry Dark's wife was Alice Elliott Dark, at one time quite the master of the short story herself--though she would, I suppose, be disqualified from consideration if she had published a collection in '04; we'll just have to content ourselves with the wait for her next novel.

UPDATE: : A few sites have pointed to a dispatch from Reuters about the prize which quotes Danticat's acceptance remarks: "'The most precious gift that a writer can get is time,' she said, noting that the cash prize, which organizers said was the largest of any annual U.S. book award, would buy 'a lot of time, time that one can invest back into one's work.'" Which may be an indication that the benefits of receiving Oprah's seal of approval are not quite as long-lasting as outside observers might have imagined.

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