Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Saving the Short Story 

From today's PW Newsline:

Larry Dark, a former editor of Anchor's The O. Henry Prize Stories as well as a handful of other collections, has his own brilliant twist up his sleeve: He has lined up an anonymous donor to contribute to an annual $20,000 prize for a book-length collection of short fiction as well as two $1,0000 prizes, for The Story Prize, which he says is the most lucrative annual fiction prize in this country.

"I want to give an editor a chance to go to their boss and say 'This collection may not sell so well but we can buy it and it has a 1 in 50 chance of winning this $20,000 prize,'" Dark says. Because the focus is on cultivating new stories and new writers, he says he is barring anthologies as well as work that has previously been published in book form. He will allow collections of novellas.

Dark has assembled a powerhouse advisory board that includes San Shepard and Binky Urban, as well as Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Curtis and Yale UP's John Donatich. Dark will mostly choose the three-title shortlist himself, and then hand off the list to a panel of rotating judges.

Currently the prizes are set up to last for three years, and Dark says he hopes they will continue indefinitely. The inaugural awards will be given out next January in Manhattan, with Sherman Alexie emceeing.

At $20,000 , the Story Prize will pay out as much as the National Book Award and $5000 more than the PEN/Faulkner. While it won't have the
cachet that can lead to more sales, Dark says he hopes that won't be the case for long. "I know it's a big ambition, " he says. "But I want
to bring as much cultural advocacy for the story as there is for poetry."

Hoo yeah, that's a nice bit of dough to throw at short story writers. Question is, when's the cutoff date for eligibility? Is it for stuff published in 2003, or are only 2004 collections considered? I suppose that will all be ironed out in the near future, but in any case, the shortlist should be interesting, once it is finally announced.

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