Exploring the art of prose


The Story Prize

The 2017/2018 winner of The Story Prize is Elizabeth Strout, for her collection Anything is Possible. The other top two finalists were Daniel Alarcón for The King Is Always Above the People and Ottessa Moshfegh for Homesick for Another World.

In addition, Lee Conell won the Spotlight Award for Subcortical. The Spotlight award is given to a collection of exceptional merit.

At the ceremony last evening in New York, each of the three writers read a portion of one of the stories in their books and then talked with The Story Prize director, Larry Dark. Dark is always intimately familiar with the writers’ books and asks wonderful questions that get at the heart of craft.

Daniel Alarcón talked with Dark about the fact that while many of his stories take place in Lima, most of the time the place is not identified. He said that he doesn’t want to be the representative of a place, and he also said that he had heard from a reader from Pakistan who said that the city in one of Alarcón’s stories reminded him of his city in Pakistan. Alarcón was quite taken with this fact, and liked the universality of not identifying the place. He also spoke about leaning in to the weird qualities in fiction—his story “Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot,” for example, is about a hipster Lincoln who lives in Chicago in the present day.

Ottessa Moshfegh discussed the origin of many of her stories. She often starts with a line which, to her, is music. It can be a line at the end of a section, or at the end of the story. She hears the cadence of that line, and the story develops from there. Moshfegh believes that, for her, the whole story’s DNA is wrapped up in that line. When she gets stuck—if she gets stuck—she returns to that line and it will help to ground her once again. Moshfegh draws maps for her stories because she’s not a visual person; she always wants to know where her characters are situated in a room and what one character’s vantage point may be versus another.

Elizabeth Strout’s collection was largely written as she was writing her novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. The story collection is based in the town in Illinois where Lucy Barton is from. As she created these characters for the novel, she became interested in them, to the point where she wanted to write about them as well. So she would move around her work table, to write a story about one of the characters, returning to her original spot to write the novel. Strout also mentioned that, at one point, she considered having the story collection be written by the character Lucy Barton but it didn’t work out as she had hoped.

Finally, don’t miss The Story Prize’s long list, which contains other terrific collections. This was a great year for short story collections!