Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NC’s Karen E. Bender on shortlist for prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award

On June 4, the Munster Literature Centre announced the shortlist for the £25,000 ($38,174) Frank O’Connor Prize, “the single most lucrative prize for a collection of short stories.” The prize, named for the writer described by W.B. Yeats as the Irish Chekhov, receives support from the Cork City (Ireland) Council and University College, Cork.

Six authors made the 2015 shortlist: three Americans, a Chilean, a New Zealander and a Welsh writer. The winner will be announced in early
July; the award will be presented at the close of the Cork International Short story Festival, the world’s oldest annual short story festival.

Photo by Jonah Siegel

Karen E. Bender of Wilmington is a finalist for “Refund,” of which Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

Money and its mysteries – how to get it, keep it, steal it, and do without it – link the stories in this collection, but so do the mysteries of having children or being one. Bender’s youthful characters are imperious creatures who leave their parents bewildered, exhausted, and wrung out with love

In an interview with The Irish Times, Bender said, “The word inventors have to create a new term to describe how I felt when I learned that Refund was on the short list. Excited, thrilled, honored – none of them quite do it. To have my book included on this list, to join the incredible writers on it this year and in years past, to be part of this necessary celebration of the short story – there is no word that will express this.”

Photo by Ruthie Earley

Also on the short list is Tony Earley for Mr. Tall. Earley grew up in North Carolina and sets many of his stories there. Jess Walter, writing in The New York Times, said of Mr. Tall:

Tony Earley’s elegiac new collection, “Mr. Tall,” begins in playful rhyme, with a couple named Darryl and Cheryl from Argyle, N.C. It ends some 240 pages later with a plea: “For God’s sake, don’t close this book.”

The six stories and one novella in between might be read as a progression of sorts, from the lucid, laconic Earley of “Jim the Boy” (2000) and “The Blue Star” (2008) to an older writer – edgier, in both senses of the word, and not above venturing into deep metafictional woods to contemplate the fading state of storytelling.

Photo by Anne Sherwood

A third American writer, Thomas McGuane, is on the shortlist for Crow Fair. In my review of 5/12/15, I noted:

The characters in Crow Fair, Thomas McGuane’s newest short story collection, are mostly losers – people who are on their way down or already there. A fair number are old people sliding into death or dementia. Yet, all of these hapless folks are presented with a kind of tender empathy and affectionate humor. We recognize them (and perhaps ourselves in them) and, maybe, shake our heads a little ruefully but we aren’t given cause to sneer.

Also selected is Carys Davies for The Redemption of Galen Pike. Its publisher described Davies’ collection:

In a remote Australian settlement a young wife with an untellable secret reluctantly invites her neighbour into her home. A Quaker spinster offers companionship to a condemned man in a Colorado jail. In the ice and snows of Siberia an office employee from Birmingham witnesses a scene that will change her life. At a jubilee celebration in a northern English town a middle-aged alderman opens his heart to Queen Victoria. A teenage daughter leaves home in search of adventure. High in the Cumbrian fells a woman seeks help from her father’s enemy.

Spare, precise, charged with a prickly wit, the stories in Carys Davies's sparkling second collection remind us how little we know of the lives of others.

Kirsty Gunn is shortlisted for Infidelities. Catherine Taylor said the collection consists of “rich, melodic stories about love, marriage and beyond [that] make for a masterclass in the art of fiction.” (The Guardian, 11/14/14)

The sixth finalist is Chilean author Alejandro Zambra for My Documents. Natasha Wimmer, writing in The New York Times (3/27/15), said:

[Zambra’s] slight, ­intimate novels created a stir when they appeared in English, attracting readers who appreciated their meshing of ­Barthesian inquiry with the muffled malaise of daily life in post-Pinochet Chile. Their chronicles of diffident romances or precarious domestic arrangements set the stage for intensely affecting examinations of the mechanics of fiction. The title of his new collection carries on the metafictional game.

However, one of the most interesting statements made in connection with the prize came from Patrick Cotter, artistic director of the Munster Literature Center, who selected the jury and acts as non-voting chairman. It should bring joy (and hope) to the hearts of struggling writers everywhere:

Every year we receive more and more entries. It is striking to note that we have three titles this year from small independent presses. It demonstrates that the dissemination of good writing is vital at a grassroots level; that multinational conglomerates don’t have a monopoly on major talent.

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