The advance copy of "The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014" landed on my desk last week while I was out of town. The annual anthology was edited this year by Laura Furman and dedicated to Alice Munro, the Canadian writer who thrilled all lovers of the short story everywhere last year when she won the Nobel Prize. Furman herself is the author of seven books, including "The Mother Who Stayed," a collection of stories, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.
Among this year's 20 O. Henry Award winners is Minnneapolis writer Louise Erdrich, who won for "Nero," which ran in the New Yorker. Other winners include the great Irish writer William Trevor, who could probably win every year; Laura van den Berg, and Stephen Dixon.
In the notes at the back of the book, Erdrich recounts how she came to write "Nero":
"My grandparents really had a dog named Nero who escaped continually from the backyard," she writes, in part. "The misery of his life contrasted deeply with the characters of my tough but kind grandparents. I never knew what to make of Nero until suddenly, one morning, I was writing this story. ... The python lyceum, as well, was based on a real show. It is my most enthralling memory from grade two at Zimmerman Elementary School in Wahpeton" (North Dakota).
Aging grandparents, an escaping dog, a python lyceum? If you're not a New Yorker subscriber, this is a story to track down. Or wait for the collection, which pubs Sept. 9.
It is always a wonderful and satisfying thing to hear that an unknown debut author has won a major prize for writing. It is not that we don't love the established writers and wish them success, but an unknown newbie rising to the top gives us hope and assurance--assurance that these competitions are fairly judged, that small independent presses are taken seriously, that the next generation of writers is as talented and accomplished (and brilliant) as the current.
And when the news that the unknown writer winning the big prize is being published in the United States by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press, well, the news is all the more welcome.
"A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing," by Irish writer Eimear McBride, was consistently rejected by mainstream publishers until last year, when it was picked up by tiny Galley Beggar Press in London. It will be published this fall by Coffee House Press.
Last week, McBride's novel won the Baileys Prize (formerly the Orange Prize); it was selected over many highly praised big novels by notable writers, including “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and “The Lowland,” by Jhumpa Lahiri, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as the National Book Award.
“A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is the story of a young woman and her relationship with her brother, who has a brain tumor. The girl’s father abandons the family, her mother retreats into Catholicism, an uncle abuses her.
Coffee House Press publisher Chris Fischbach said McBride’s book floored him when he first read it, “not only by the powerful story, but by its urgent, assaulting syntax, which is both relentless and engrossing. By the time I finished, I was spent: artistically, emotionally, spiritually. I had never read anything like it. We are beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to publish the U.S. edition of this brilliant book.”
McBride’s writing can be difficult, at first, for the reader to penetrate; the book is written in long blocks of fragments with only sporadic punctuation. But critics have found the difficulty well worth the effort. The Star Tribune review, which will be published in September, calls the book “brave, dizzying, risk-taking fiction of the highest order.”
The Guardian called it “jaggedly uncompromising in both style and subject matter,” and Irish novelist Anne Enright called the book an “instant classic” and its author “a genius.”
McBride’s award follows a number of significant awards won recently by Coffee House Press authors, including Ron Padgett’s “Collected Poems,” which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award, and Patricia Smith’s “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah,” which won the Wheatley Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets.
McBride’s book has also won the Goldsmiths Prize, was named Kerry Group Irish Novel of the year, and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. The Baileys Prize carries an award of $50,000 and goes to the best novel written in English by a woman. Originally known as the Orange Prize, the award ended briefly in 2012 when Orange telecommunications ended its sponsorship. Baileys Irish Cream announced sponsorship this year.
The other finalists for this year’s Baileys Prize were “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Undertaking,” by Audrey Magee, and “Burial Rites,” by Hannah Kent.
Arts: Great Houses of Summit Avenue and the Hill District by Karen Melvin, published by Big Picture Press
Autobiography/Memoir: Here Comes the Sun by Brian Lucas, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Biography: Confronting Slavery by Suzanne Cooper Guasco, published by Northern Illinois University Press
Business: Hospitality from the Heart by Brandon W. Johnson & Katherine Foley Roden, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Children’s Fiction: The Colored Car by Jean Alicia Elster, published by Wayne State University Press
Children’s Non-Fiction: Great Ships on the Great Lakes by Catherine M. Green, Jefferson J. Gray, and Bobbie Malone, published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Children’s Picture Books: Angels by Alexis York-Lumbad, illustrated by Flavia Weedn, published by Wisdom Tales
Coffee Table Books: Dances Through Glass by Polly Norman, designed by Dorie McClelland, published by Avant Circle Publishing
Cookbook: Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Crafts and Hobbies: First-Time Machine Applique by Janet Pittman, published by Landauer Publishing
Culture: Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Current Events/Political Science: A View from the Interior by Susan Riseling, published by MavenMark
Education/Learning: Catch the Sun by Anne Johnson, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Family/Parenting: Ready for Air by Kate Hopper, published by University of Minnesota Press
Fiction: Contemporary: Turtle Season by Miriam Ruth Black, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Fiction: Fantasy/SciFi/Horror/Paranormal: Orphans by Ben Tanzer, published by Switchgrass Books
Fiction: Historical: Seeking Signs by Staci Angelina Mercado, published by Four Feathers Press
Fiction: Literary: Bolt by Douglas W. Rose, published by Three Towers Press
Fiction: Mystery/Thriller: Wolves by Cary J. Griffith, published by Adventure Publications
Fiction: Romance: Turtle Season by Miriam Ruth Black, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Fiction: Short Story/Anthology: Something That Feels Like Truth by Donald Lystra, published by Switchgrass Books
Health: The Gray Zone by Deborah Day Laxson, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
History: Race and Rights by Dana Elizabeth Weiner, published by Northern Illinois University Press
Humor: From the Top by Michael Perry, published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Inspiration/Gift Book: Growing Through the Narrow Spots by Ruth Bachman, published by Tristan Publishing
Midwest Regional Interest: Illustration: One Small Farm by text and photos by Craig Schreiner, published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Midwest Regional Interest: Text: Something for Everyone by Michael Leannah, published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Nature: From Where I See It by Karen Olson Johnson, published by Amber Skye Publishing LLC
Poetry: The Cancer Poetry Project 2 by Karin D. Miller, published by Tasora Books
Publisher’s Website: Beaver’s Pond Press
Recreation/Sports: Fore! Gone: Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses by Joe Bissen, published by Five Star Publishing
Reference: Royal C. Moore: The Man Who Built the Streetcar Boats by Lori Cherland-McCune, published by Beaver’s Pond Press
Religion/Philosophy: Tillich by Daniel J. Peterson, published by Lutheran University Press
Self-Help: Nourishing the Grieving Heart by Jane Thompson with Holly Cashin, published by Empath Press, LLC
Social Sciences: Old Barns and Country Skills of Southeast Michigan by Derek P. Brereton, published by In-Depth Editions
Travel: St. Paul Almanac by multiple authors, published by Arcata Press
Young Adult Fiction: They’re Always With You by Mary Clare Lockman, published by Wise Ink Creative Publishing
Young Adult Non-Fiction: The Compassionate Warrior by Elsa Marston, published by Wisdom Tales
Cover: Dances Through Glass by Polly Norman, designed by Dorie McClelland, published by Avant Circle Publishing
Illustration: Graphic: The Otter, the Spotted Frog and the Great Flood by Gerald Hausman, illustrated by Ramon Shiloh, published by Wisdom Tales
Illustration: Photography: Great Houses of Summit Avenue and the Hill District by Karen Melvin, with photography by Karen Melvin, published by Big Picture Press
Interior Layout: Children of the Tipi by Michael Oren Fitzgerald, designed by Stephen Williams, published by Wisdom Tales
Total Book Design: Dances Through Glass by Polly Norman, designed by Dorie McClelland, published by Avant Circle Publishing
And then last night, up in Duluth, the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards celebration was held, with Cathy Wurzer as keynote speaker. Here are the winners:
Fiction: "Tamarack County," by William Kent Krueger, published by Atria Books.
Honorarable mention: Timber: Fire in the Pines, by A. L. Sanderson, published by Haven Publishing.
Poetry: "Bound Together: Like the Grasses," by Deborah Cooper, Candace Ginsberg, Ann Floreen Niedringhaus, Ellie Schoenfeld, and Anne Simpson, published by Clover Valley Press.
Honorable mention: "Tin Flag: New and Selected Prose Poems," by Louis Jenkins, published by Will o’ the Wisp Books.
General Nonfiction: "The Pie Place Café Cookbook: Food & Stories Seasoned by the North Shore," by Kathy Rice, published by Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc..
Honorable mention: "Esko’s Corner: An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township," by Esko Historical Society, edited by Davis Helberg, published by X-presso Books.
Children’s Literature: "The Best Part of a Sauna," written by Sheryl Peterson, illustrated by Kelly Dupre, published by Raven Productions, Inc.
Honorable mention: "Finding Hope," by Michelle Myers Lackner, published by Adventure Publications.
Memoir / Creative Nonfiction: "Threads of Hope: Caring for Babies Across Three Continents," by Martha Andrea Aas, M.D., published by Lakeberry Press.
Last year, Twin Cities writer William Kent Krueger ventured away from his tried-and-true (and much loved) series of mysteries about Cork O'Connor, writing, instead, a coming-of-age novel wrapped up in a mystery and set in 1961 small-town Minnesota. "Ordinary Grace" has been embraced and honored, winning a Minnesota Book Award and an Edgar Award, is now in the running for an Anthony Award.
The Anthony Awards, named for writer Anthony Boucher (a founder of the Mystery Writers of America), will be presented in the fall in California.
Here's the full list:
Suspect - Robert Crais [Putnam]
A Cold and Lonely Place - Sara J. Henry [Crown]
Ordinary Grace - William Kent Krueger [Atria]
The Wrong Girl - Hank Phillippi Ryan [Forge]
Through the Evil Days - Julia Spencer-Fleming [Minotaur]
BEST FIRST NOVEL
Yesterday’s Echo - Matt Coyle [Oceanview]
Ghostman - Roger Hobbs [Alfred A. Knopf]
Rage Against the Dying - Becky Masterman [Minotaur]
Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight [HarperCollins]
The Hard Bounce - Todd Robinson [Tyrus]
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Big Reap- Chris F. Holm [Angry Robot]
Purgatory Key - Darrell James [Midnight Ink]
Joyland - Stephen King [Hard Case Crime]
The Wicked Girls - Alex Marwood [Penguin]
As She Left It - Catriona McPherson [Midnight Ink]
BEST SHORT STORY
"Dead End" - Craig Faustus Buck [Untreed Reads]
"The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository" - John Connolly, Bibliomysteries [Mysterious Bookshop]
"Annie and the Grateful Dead" - Denise Dietz, The Sound and the Furry: Stories To Benefit the International Fund for Animal Welfare [Amazon Digital]
"Incident on the 405" - Travis Richardson, Criminal Element's Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble [Macmillan]
"The Care and Feeding of Houseplants" - Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013
BEST CRITICAL OR NONFICTION WORK
Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes - Maria Konnikova [Viking Adult]
The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines - Cate Lineberry [Little, Brown]
All the Wild Children - Josh Stallings [Snubnose Press]
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot To Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War - Daniel Stashower [Minotaur]
Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense - Sarah Weinman, ed. [Penguin]
BEST CHILDREN'S OR YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau [Houghton Mifflin]
Escape Theory - Margaux Froley [Soho Teen]
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library - Chris Grabenstein [Random House Children’s Books]
Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy - Elizabeth Kiem [Soho Teen]
The Code Busters Club: Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure - Penny Warner [Egmont USA]
BEST TV EPISODE TELEPLAY, FIRST AIRED IN 2013
The Blacklist - Pilot by Jon Bokenkamp - Sept. 2013 [Davis Entertainment, NBC]
Breaking Bad - "Felina" by Vince Gilligan - Sept. 2013 [AMC]
The Fall - "Dark Descent" by Allan Cubitt - May 2013 [Netflix Original]
The Following - Pilot by Kevin Williamson - Jan. 2013 [Warner Bros. Television, FOX]
Justified - "Hole in the Wall" by Graham Yost - Jan. 2013 [Warner Bros. Television, FOX]
BEST AUDIO BOOK
Hour of the Rat - Lisa Brackmann - Tracy Sallows, narrator [Audible]
Man in the Empty Suit - Sean Ferrell - Mauro Hantman, narrator [AudioGO]
The Cuckoo’s Calling - Robert Galbraith - Robert Glenister, narrator [Hachette Audio]
Crescendo - Deborah J Ledford - Christina Cox, narrator [Audible]
Death and the Lit Chick - G.M. Malliet - Davina Porter, narrator [Dreamscape Media]
Kimmerer, who lives in Fabius, N.Y., is a professor environmental biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She will receive a $1,000 parize and will visit Northland College in the fall for a reading an the awards ceremony.
"Braiding Sweetgrass" is about the interdependence of people and the natural world, primarily the plant world. "The gift of Kimmerer’s book is that she provides readers the ability to see a very common world in uncommon ways, or, rather, in ways that have been commonly held but have recently been largely discarded," the Star Tribune review notes.
The Sigurd F. Olson award was established in 1991 to recognize remarkable literature that promotes Olson's values and captures the spirit of the relationship of humans in the natural world.
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