Debut author Daniyal Mueenuddin received the twenty-thousand-dollar Story Prize last night at a ceremony in New York City. Mueenuddin, honored for his collection of linked stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, was revealed as winner after a lively evening of readings and onstage conversations featuring fellow finalists Victoria Patterson and Wells Tower.
"I've been accused of being too dark," Mueenuddin told prize presenter Larry Dark, who engaged each writer in an interview after their respective readings and asked Mueenuddin about the often tragic demise of some of his characters. "But that's sort of the way I see it," the author added. Mueenuddin's book investigates life in his native Pakistan (he was also raised in Massachusetts) through the lenses of individuals in different stations, from an electrician to a woman servant to a farm manager, a position the author himself occupies today. He described himself as being in the profession of identifying characters, both in his writing and in his business at home.
Tower and Patterson also offered insight into their writing lives and process of generating narratives. Patterson, a finalist for her collection of linked stories, Drift, described her motives as being perhaps "angry, and maybe not so pure" when creating characters based on real and imagined residents of her hometown of Newport Beach, located in often-stereotyped Orange County, California.
Tower, a dedicated reviser who was nominated for Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, said he likes the story form because "you get to make more mistakes more rapidly," so the story is "a great laboratory." He also described his futile attempts during graduate school—he attended Columbia University's MFA program in the early 2000s—to "crack the code" of the short story, citing some revealing advice he received from the late Barry Hannah concerning "the secret" to writing a great story: "Get in and get out."
When the prize was announced, Mueenuddin took the stage to dedicate the award to his mother, writer Barbara Thompson Davis, who passed away last November, and whom he honored for teaching him "that becoming a writer was a legitimate thing to do."
In the Poets & Writers video below, Mueenuddin takes a crack at the question of "the secret" to the great story: