Six short story books & a big prize

The six finalists for the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award have been announced. This is the sixth year for the award that’s part of a literary festival in Cork, Ireland, home of the renowned Irish short story writer for which it’s named. The cash prize of 35,000 euros is the richest to be given for a short story collection. According to the Munster Literature Centre, the award sponsor, “[The prize] is awarded to what is judged to be the best, original collection of stories published in English in the 12 months preceding its award in September.” Five of the six books for the 2010 prize are by U.S. authors.

Frank O’Connor (1903 – 1966), a pseudonym for Michael O’Donovan, achieved instant fame in 1931 for his story collection Guests of the Nation. He went on to write several more story  collections, as well as plays, criticism and autobiographies.

It’s nice to see the short story so handsomely celebrated with this award. While publishers support this fiction form, it’s no secret that a short story collection brings in small, if any, profit. Like poetry, it’s an important and necessary contribution to literature, but it stays afloat at the big publishing houses on the profitable tail winds of novels.  

Not even the many short story writers churned out by the creative writing workshops and MFA programs support their literary art in print, given their interactions with literary journals. These journals are the forums where short stories flourish, indeed, the very forums that  give many short story writers their first publications.  Yet, according to an article in the Spring 2010 Wilson Quarterly, literary journals receive thousands of submissions by short story writers looking to get published but few subscribe. According to the article, “The average literary journal prints fewer than 1,500 copies. Yet the volume of submissions to these publications has exploded.”

Here are the six finalists for the Frank O’Connor award that the judges believe are among the best this year. They’re great suggestions for the reading table in this celebration and support of the short story.

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
NPR book critic Alan Cheuse’s review of Black’s book for the Chicago Tribune included this: “I want to shout about how just when you thought no one could write a story with any tinge of freshness let alone originality about childhood Black has done it, in the story called ‘Harriett Eliot’. And how just when you thought no one could write a story with any tinge of freshness let alone originality about marriage Black has done it, in the story called ‘Gaining Ground’.”

Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs
From a review in The Rumpus: “Boggs’s stories are connected subtly and organically, filled with damaged creatures who live out their tough, wise-cracking existences in Virginia’s semi-rural Mattaponi River region—in its reservation and nearby towns—where four hundred years ago stood the Mattaponi chief Powhattan, his daughter Pocahontas, her eventual husband John Smith, and English colonists who launched an era of violence still felt by Boggs’s people, Indian, white, and black alike.”

Wild Child by T.C. Boyle
From the Los Angeles Times review: “Here are stories of personal apocalypses and the outrageous tragicomedy in seemingly ordinary lives, all delivered with the author’s trademark explosive style.”

The Shieling by David Constantine
The Guardian’s review includes this: “It’s possible to resist Constantine for a page, half a page, of each story. Perhaps it’s the obliquity of the narrative; more likely it’s something in the characters you don’t want to know, something about their lives or their thoughts that reminds you too intimately of your own. Then suddenly you can’t stop reading. You’ve embraced the story in the exact moment it captivated you.”

Burning Bright by Ron Rash
From The Seattle Times review: “He ensures his stature as a truly national treasure with ‘Burning Bright,’ a collection of short stories that combine the lush but rough-edged atmosphere of Appalachia with ice-pick-sharp dialogue, the kind that plunges right to the heart of a character in one vicious, glorious stroke.”

What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg
From a review on Bookslut: “It’s a beautiful, moving, and accomplished collection — if the short story really is dead, nobody told van den Berg. Thank God.”

3 thoughts on “Six short story books & a big prize

  1. Thank you for this focus on short stories. I run hot and cold on reading short story collections — but I’m surprised they don’t sell better, since it’s a nice way to “taste” a writer’s work without investing the time/energy/focus in a 300-page novel. Great snippet reviews here. Thanks for once again weeding through and grabbing the info we can use.


  2. I’m also surprised they’re not more popular in this era where quick bursts of information are required. You would think a 25-page story before bed at night or even mid-day would fit in better than the doorstopper.


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