Prize Watch

By Neal Comment

yiyunli.gifA Thousand Years of Good Prayers has only been in bookstores for a week, but the short story collection has already garnered Yiyun Li (left) the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. It’s the largest prize available for a short story collection, and quite an accomplishment for a debut writer such as Li–the shortlist included established pros such as Tim Winton, Alice Hoffman, and David Means, as well as fellow first-timers Bret Anthony Johnston and David Bezmogis.

The O’Connor comes with a prize of €50,000, which converts to just over $60,000–twice the level of the Rea Award for the Short Story, which was announced at roughly the same time. Ann Beattie became the twentieth writer to receive the Rea, which doesn’t honor specific stories or even collected works, but seeks rather to point out “significant contribution(s) to the discipline of the short story as an art form” (on which basis Beattie’s been eligible ever since the prize was created in 1986). “Her prose has become known for its vivid particularity, the details of the way we live,” wrote jurors Sherman Alexie, Ron Carlson, and Tess Gallagher. “But her stories have insisted on their place in American letters because of her ability to imply the way the human heart confronts the confusion of attachment and loss.She approaches the intricacies of contemporary life,layered and frazzled as it is,in such a way that we accompany characters who sometimes find their lives softly caving in or imploding. There is a complexity in her best work that reveals new gradations of the oldest emotions.”

Meanwhile, the Mercantile Library is reinventing itself as a center “devoted entirely to the art of fiction,” and one of the first steps in the process is presenting Nan A. Talese with the newly created Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction. Talese, the senior veep at Doubleday who’s run her own imprint since 1990, has published a slew of great fiction writers, including (very selectively on my part) Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood, Pat Conroy, Jennifer Egan, Aleksandar Hemon, Ian McEwan, and Barry Unsworth.