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Mary Gordon Wins Story Prize 2006

Where there are literary awards, there is the Tishman Auditorium at the New School. And while the place wasn’t filled to full capacity, an enthusiastic crowd showed up for yesterday’s awards night, giving equal weight to bestowing its goblet prize and $20,000 cheque to winner Mary Gordon (for THE STORIES OF MARY GORDON) as to celebrating the short story. “It’s such an honor to accept an award for the short story, which is becoming somewhat of an endangered species,” Gordon said to open her acceptance speech, mentioning how many fine writers known for their story skills – like John Cheever, Katherine Ann Porter and Flannery O’Connor – all turned to novels because they were deemed to be the “real thing.”

But the readings by each of the three finalists and subsequent Q&As with Story Prize co-founder Larry Dark demonstrated the story’s ability to be real to the point of naturalistic (in the case of Rick Bass, reading “Her First Elk” from his collection THE LIVES OF ROCKS) or comically absurd (demonstrated with continued hilarity by Gordon’s “My Podiatrist Tells Me A Story About a Boy and a Dog” and George Saunders‘ speculative tale of a verbally idiosyncratic teen named “Jon”.) The biggest laugh came when Saunders admitted, upon Dark’s probing, that he does indeed laugh at his own writing, “but I never like to admit it because it’s absurd. Here’s this balding, middle-aged man reading something he likes and ‘oh isn’t this funny!’. It’s ridiculous.” What wasn’t ridiculous was how close the vote was; we understand judges Edwidge Danticat, Mitchell Kaplan and Ron Hogan had their work cut out for them, trying to decide between three excellent yet radically different collections—at least they only had three to deal with, after they’d been culled from a shortlist of 65 story collections that, in Dark’s words, were extremely difficult to pare down. “I actually had to stop reading short stories about two months before Larry gave us the finalists,” Ron said about his approach to the judging process, “because there was so many great collections coming out that I couldn’t think of any other way I’d be able to look at the actual nominees with a fresh set of eyes, not comparing them to everybody else. Since I’ve already read these three books, the first thing I’m going to do this weekend is finally crack open All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones, and then I’ve got at least six others lined up after that…”

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