Saturday, 5 July 2008

Frank O'Connor Winner Announced Early

Jhumpa Lahiri, a 40 year old American author of Bengali descent, has been announced as the 2008 winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, for her story collection Unaccustomed Earth. I am currently enjoying reading the spare and poignant stories in this collection.

Pulitzer-winner Lahiri’s book was on a longlist of thirty-nine short fiction collections, announced by the Munster Literature Centre in early May, for the €35,000 prize. Most longlistees will have been waiting for the shortlist to appear about now, so this announcement will come as a surprise.

This year's judges – Granta Fiction Editor Rosalind Porter, Cork City Chief Librarian Liam Ronayne, and Irish Times Literary Correspondent Eileen Battersby – opted to announce Lahiri as winner instead of creating a shortlist. She will travel to Cork in September to pick up her prize.

See today's Irish Times here and Guardian here for more information on this announcement.


Tania Hershman said...

It's quite something, isn't it? While I congratulate Jhumpa Lahiri, it does make me wonder, the fact that there was no shortlist. She is extremely well known, her collection went straight to the top of the NY Times bestseller list. I don't doubt that her stories are excellent, I have read some, though not this collection. But I have to ask myself: would she have won if this was judged anonymously? Of course, that's nigh on impossible when judging books, I assume. Am I just feeling bad for the longlisted who don't even get to see a shortlist? Not sure if you can comment on this, but I thought I would air my feelings! The prize is a fantastic thing, wonderful for the short story and has already brought the 40 longlisted collections probably more attention than some might otherwise have received in this novel-focussed market. Which is definitely a good thing!

Women Rule Writer said...

All good points, Tania. I think if I had a book on the longlist, I would probably feel a bit short-changed.
It seems to me that often the guidelines for comps are changed in the judging process.
An example is an award for first book which was won by someone who had yet to have a book published. That was maddening for the other shortlistees.
I often wonder in cases like this is it just a case of lauding the already lauded? And is that relevant or valuable? I know for a fact that there are other excellent books on the longlist (I've read several of them). I hope it's not too downheartening for the other longlistees, though I'm sure it must be.
It reinforces the point too, I think, that a certain type of writing is considered 'real'. That is, plain prose matched with simple story-telling.
Innovative, sparky writing is not to the taste of the majority it seems. Maybe. I don't know. Sigh.

FD Moran said...

Hi, I have another concern about this. I would have thought one of the purposes of the shortlist is to allow the judges more time to concentrate on a small number of books. Not only does innovative writing seem to be less popular, it is also at a distinct disadvantage because it requires more from the reader. Something it wouldn't get in this situation.

Women Rule Writer said...

Hello FD,
Thanks for dropping by.
That's a good point re more time to re-read the shortlisted books. I was on the jury for the FOC last year and I loved having almost three further months to read the 6 shortlisted books again (and again and again) and really consider what it was that made them great. And which ones I considered were my top favourites.

Tania Hershman said...

Excellent point made by FD Moran, surely other books lost out by the skipping entirely of the shortlisting process to take a longer and closer look at a number of the longlisted books. And WRW, sad but true about innovative writing. However, thank goodness for prizes such as the Calvino Prize which actively seek "outstanding pieces of fiction in the fabulist experimentalist style of Italo Calvino.... these prizes are meant to encourage experimental writing, in the mode of Calvino, and are not meant to encourage merely imitative work." At least someone wants to read work which might require a little active participation on the part of the reader.

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi T,
'Active participation', that's it. And you know, it's much more FUN to write something innovative. Straight prose is yawn-inducing for me, mostly, as writer and reader.
Thanks for the link to the Calvino Prize. Steven Millhasuer is the judge this year. WOW!

Tim Jones said...

As I said on my blog, I think the judges' decision needs to be respected - but what I do disagree with is the judges explaining that they wished to avoid putting the five other shortlisted writers through unnecessary stress and suspense. Were I to have been one of the shortlisted writers, I would have found this particular form of stress and suspense positively invigorating.

The Calvino Prize does sounds enticing - though the entry fee throws up a substantial barrier.

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi Tim,
Having been on the F.O.C. longlist twice (2005 & 2006), I too would have happily born the stress and strain and increased sales etc. that being shortlisted would have meant. It was not to be, but at least there were shortlists in those years.

Re fees for comps: I know. I have to choose the ones to enter. The fees are prohibitive.

Celanson said...

The problem is the unspoken war between those who expect the same "satisfaction" one gets in reading a novel from a collection of stories and those who have a more writerly approach in obtaining pleasure as a reader; the difference between those who want to lose themselves in a detailed fictional world of great verisimilitude produced by an aesthetically classical mind (which usually mirrors a socio-realistic world, either historical or contemporary) or those who want to be exposed by a zany take on reality by an innovator, and participate in a world which mirrors or complements a creative reader’s own headspace.
Both camps can never be simultaneously pleased. The questions for the O’Connor Award people include do you want to court the tastes of just one group? (Previous winners Murakami and July would suggest not). Are you going to try to strike a balance between the two or go to please each in alternate years?
In the past, juries consisting entirely of writers revealed a certain peer envy by easily dismissing the likes of William Trevor and Alice Munro. 2008 is the first year the jury had no short story writers serving and if no shortlist results from this kind of approach, another mix has to be considered. One problem is the shoestring budget the whole thing is run on and the lack of money to pay more than three judges adequately.

Women Rule Writer said...

Nicholas Lezard has posted on the Guardian Online about it. He's pretty put out.
See this link. You may have to cut n paste it into a new window.

bibliobibuli said...

i have no issue at all with jhumpa lahiri winning, but personally i would have liked a shortlist, and the chance to buy and argue about those stories and i can well understand if writers and readers feel shortchanged.

a friend of mine is on this list this year. i am so proud of her, and i would have loved it if she had been able to go just that one stage further as i personally think she deserved to do. but i know she was thrilled at being nominated.

ah well. congrats to all the writers of short fiction who were nominated. despite all this, i am so glad the award exists. and i will see if i can at least pick up some of the books.

women rule writers - thanks for dropping by my blog and telling me of the responses here.

Women Rule Writer said...

I think too, seeing that the longlist is composed of eligible books (i.e. books that are sent in, as opposed to hand picked) the shortlist in this case is extremely valuable. The longlist is valuable too but the shortlist is (normally) carefully chosen after 3 people have read up to 40 books; considered which ones they like the best; then they are put out there on a shortlist for people to also consider/argue about.
What I also know, from my own experience of judging the FOC, is that one is not comparing like with like.
Yes, each book is generally literary fiction of a high standard, but each one is unique and beautiful in its own way.
I think it's silly to say Lahiri's book was head and shoulders above the rest as if that were a fact. It's a good book but I enjoyed other ones on the longlist more.
This is 3 people's taste, no more, no less.
I still think they should have made a shortlist.

Emerging Writer said...

I think that one of the aims of the competition is to promote books of short stories. If they had gone to a shortlist, that's more publicity for the form which badly needs it.

Women Rule Writer said...

Anyway, as they say 'There's no such thing as bad publicity' and the blogosphere is certainly hopping with opinion about this lack of a shortlist, thus making more people aware of the prize and the festival in September. So that's a score!