We wanted to include a book with one of our cartons, as there is really nothing better than reading for an easy escape. The recently released The Story Prize: 15 Years of Great Short Fiction seemed an inspired choice, as this impressive anthology includes the winning stories from the previous 14 editions and provides an excellent introduction to some extraordinary authors.
Recently, we asked the very charming, Larry Dark, who has been the Director of The Story Prize since the beginning to explain what it is all about.
First, could you please explain what The Story Prize is to people who may not be aware of it?
The Story Prize is an annual book award for short story collections published in the U.S. It's been around for 15 years. Besides the recognition, the winner gets $20,000. The other two finalists each get $5,000.
Can anyone submit a story for review, or does it have to be published somewhere first?
Only published book-length works are eligible for The Story Prize.
What was the voting process like to pick the winner for this edition?
We announced our latest winner--Florida by Lauren Groff--at an event at The New School on March 6. Julie Lindsey (the founder of the prize) and I chose the three finalists from among the 108 ) entered in 2019. The other two books were A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley and Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eiseneberg. Three judges read these story collections and chose the winner from among them. Usually, one judge is a writer, one is a bookseller or librarian, and one is a critic or editor. The judges for 2019 were author Jo Ann Beard, Washington Post book critic Ron Charles, and bookseller Veronica Santiago Liu.
Reading is so subjective, was it difficult to choose a favorite or was there an easy consensus among the judges?
It's never easy to narrow the choices down to three books. We usually receive more short story collections that are good enough to be finalists than we can choose. And the judges have a similar struggle choosing one book out of three as the winner. It's usually a close vote. But I think that if you look at the list of past winners (who are included in this anthology) you'll see that we've chosen some very good books by some important writers.
What makes a great short story?
Several things. An author with a vision who is true to that vision, an attention to detail and language, a distinctive voice, and a plot that leverages the structural power of the form.
How many short stories do you think you read in an average year?
I probably read more than a thousand short stories a year. The length of stories can vary from a paragraph to 50 or more pages, so the number doesn't tell the whole story.
Why do you love short stories so much?
I have to admit that if I weren't doing this, I'm not sure how many short story collections I'd be reading on my own. I've read so many over the past 15 years that my relationship to them goes beyond love. Codependence, maybe? I do feel that I've learned a tremendous amount about the human condition and how people very different than I am experience life. Reading fiction amplifies empathy and understanding unlike anything else
What is your favorite short story of all time?
"In the Gloaming" by Alice Elliott Dark. It's about love and grief and what we learn through the simple act of talking to one another. The author happens to be my wife, but I think it might be my favorite even if I'd never met her. It was the title story of Alice's last short story collection and also appears in Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike, and Nothing But You: Love Stories From The New Yorker. In addition it was made into two films. The better known version was directed by Christopher Reeve, starred Glenn Close, and originally aired on HBO.
For people who haven't read a lot of short stories, are there any authors you would you recommend to get started?
One of the great things about this anthology is that it includes stories by a lot of contemporary authors I'd recommend to readers. Each of the 14 stories in the book is very accessible and representative of each author's work, with one or two exceptions. So if readers particularly like a story, they're likely to enjoy reading more stories by the same author. You can't go wrong with any of them.
Larry Dark has been the director of The Story Prize since its inception in 2004. Before that, he served as series editor for six volumes of The O. Henry Prize Stories (1997-2002) and compiled, edited, and introduced four other anthologies: Literary Outtakes, The Literary Ghost, The Literary Lover, and The Literary Traveler.