Story Prize announces its finalists

The annual Story Prize, awarded to a collection of short fiction, is in its third year and has recently announced its three finalists: Rick Bass, Mary Gordon (who has appeared at NYSWI) and George Saunders (who teaches at Syracuse).

The Lives of Rocks by Rick Bass (Houghton Mifflin) — These ten stories, set in Texas, Mississippi, and Montana, evoke both the beauty of the natural world and the ugliness of the man-made world. The title story is about a self-sufficient woman leading a rugged and isolated life while struggling to survive cancer. The same character appears in an earlier tale that in vivid detail recounts her first experience hunting elk. Another story tells of the narrator’s evolution from geologist to artist to environmentalist. The prose throughout is spare, at times lyrical, and often elegant.

Rick Bass was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He earned a degree in geology from Utah State University and worked as a gas and oil geologist in Jackson, Mississippi, before moving to Montana’s Yaak Valley, where he currently lives. Bass is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction. His first short story collection, The Watch, earned him the PEN/Nelson Algren Award, and his 2002 collection, The Hermit’s Story, was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year selection. His stories have won a Pushcart Prize and an O. Henry Award, and have also been collected in The Best American Short Stories.

The Stories of Mary Gordon (Pantheon) — Twenty-two new and previously uncollected stories plus nineteen from Gordon’s 1987 volume, Temporary Shelter, showcase the range and depth of her well-honed craft. Characters and situations include a woman whose encounter with an eccentric downstairs neighbor draws her back to her squalid origins, a nun who struggles to be true to her faith and show kindness and love to a needy deacon she detests, a flawed woman in a romantic relationship with a saint-like doctor, and the young son of a Polish cleaning woman who aspires to distance himself from her.

Mary Gordon is the author of six novels, including Final Payments and Pearl; a memoir, The Shadow Man; and an earlier collection of stories, Temporary Shelter. She has received a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Academy Award for Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters. Her story “City Life” was the first prize story in the 1997 volume of Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.

In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders (Riverhead Books) — The twelve stories in this collection range from straightforward narratives to outlandish tales populated by talking snack bars and vengeful Dorito bags. Among the subjects: a future in which messages are beamed directly to consumers, allowing (actually requiring) them to “celebrate their preferences;” a privileged group of celebrity teen product testers, some of whom find themselves longing for more authentic experiences; and a town where grief for a little girl who is accidentally killed leads to a dangerously overheated atmosphere.

George Saunders is the author of the collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, as well as the political novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. He has also written a children’s book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. His work regularly appears in The New Yorker and Harper’s, as well as Esquire, GQ, and The New York Times Magazine. His stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and have won National Magazine Awards four times. Saunders is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and was named a MacArthur fellow in 2006. He teaches at Syracuse University.

Founder Julie Lindsey and Director Larry Dark selected the three finalists from among 65 books entered by 45 publishers and imprints. The winner of The Story Prize will be determined by these three judges:

Edwidge Danticat, an award-winning fiction writer and the first winner of The Story Prize for her 2005 collection of connected stories, The Dew Breaker (Knopf).
Ron Hogan, of the literary blogs and Galleycat, for which he covers the publishing industry.
Mitchell Kaplan, an independent bookseller, past American Booksellers Association president, and founder of the Miami, Fla., area Books & Books stores.

The Story Prize will be presented at an awards ceremony at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 28. The three finalists will read selections from their work, after which Larry Dark will interview each writer onstage. At the end of the event, the winner will be announced and presented with $20,000 and an engraved silver bowl. The two runners-up will each receive $5,000. Last year’s winner of The Story Prize was The Hill Road by Patrick O’Keeffe (Viking).

To order tickets ($15 for general admission) to The Story Prize reading and awards ceremony at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium (66 West 12th Street) on Feb. 28, go to and search for “story prize” or call the New School box office at 212-229-5488 Monday through Thursday from 1-8 p.m., or Friday 1-7 p.m.


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