Julie Lindsey and Larry Dark recently announced the finalists for the Story Prize, and you have to hand it to them: They picked a pretty eclectic group. Lindsey, who founded the Story Prize in 2005, and Dark, the director of the annual award honoring short story collections, chose Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, Demons in the Spring by Joe Meno, and Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff as the final three from among seventy-three story collections.
Lahiri, whose third book, Unaccustomed Earth, was published by Knopf last year, became the youngest writer to win the Puliltzer Prize when her first book, the story collection The Interpreter of Maladies (Houghton Mifflin), was so honored in 2000, when the author was just thirty-two. "Interpreter stood out because it didn't try to stand out," wrote Matthew Solan in a profile of Lahiri in the September/October 2003 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. "There are no 'shock plots'; she instead focuses on the uniqueness of ordinary life. You can relate to her characters because their plights could easily be your own—a young couple trying to stay together after losing a baby; a housewife yearning to be more independent. Beneath the surface, though, her fiction takes the pulse of first- and second-generation Indian Americans trying to bridge the gap between the country they call home and the heritage that defines them."
Joe Meno's first two books, Tender as Hellfire (1999) and How the Hula Girl Sings (2000), were published by commercial publishers, but with his third, The Hairstyles of the Damned (2004), he moved to the independent Punk Planet Books, and he's been with small or university presses ever since—Demons in the Spring was published last year by Akashic Books. (Later this year, however, he's back in the big house: Norton will publish his novel, The Great Perhaps, in May.)
Tobias Wolff has been a consistent presence in the contest arena for the past thirty years, having been honored with the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the O. Henry Award, the Rea Award, and others. He's also been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Our Story Begins, which was published last year by Knopf, gathers the best stories from three previous collections: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (Ecco, 1981), Back in the World (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), and The Night in Question (Random House, 1996). "Something always happens in a Wolff story—something troublesome, something violent, either literally or emotionally," wrote Joe Woodward in profile of Wolff in the March/April 2008 issue. "Indeed, so much violence to the human spirit hasn't been seen in a short story collection since Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find."
Story Prize judges Daniel Menaker, Rick Simonson, and Hannah Tinti (who last year won the ten-thousand-dollar John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize from the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction for her novel The Good Thief) will choose the Story Prize winner, who will be announced at an event on March 4 at the New School in New York City. The winner will receive twenty-thousand dollars and the other finalists will each receive five thousand dollars.
Who do you think will win?