Saturday, March 23, 2013
Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz wins world's most valuable short story award
An unnerving story of grief and high-school sex has won the world’s most valuable short story prize. The American author Junot Díaz was presented with a cheque for £30,000 by novelist and prize judge Joanna Trollope at a ceremony tonight at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival for ‘Miss Lora’, a tale set in 1980s New Jersey. Andrew O’Hagan, novelist and prize judge, said that the story ‘has the feel of a contemporary classic’ and that it ‘echoes in the heart as well as the mind.’
Junot Díaz (above) – a 2012 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, or ‘Genius Grant’ – becomes the fourth winner of the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. He saw off competition from a shortlist that included Booker shortlistees Sarah Hall and Ali Smith, and Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. They – and fellow shortlisted authors Toby Litt and Cynan Jones – each received £1,000. Junot Díaz joins a winners’ circle of Kevin Barry, who won the Award last year with his story ‘Beer Trip to Llandudno’, American Anthony Doerr, who won in 2011 for his story ‘The Deep’, and New Zealander C K Stead, who won the inaugural Award in 2010 with ‘Last Season’s Man’.
Junot Díaz on ‘Miss Lora’
‘So many of the young men I grew up with had, during their adolescences, these difficult-to-categorize sexual relationships with older women. What's unnerving is that because we think of adolescent boys – especially teenagers of colour – as already hypersexualized, we tend not to consider these kinds of relationships as criminal and abusive as we do similar relationships that involve teenage girls. I wanted to jump right into the middle of the awful ambivalence. And I also wanted to do justice to that mid-1980s atmosphere of apocalyptic dread that I grew up in. So many of my students and younger nephews have no idea how fearsomely apocalyptic that period was, how the shadow of nuclear annihilation was over all of us. I guess this is one of those sex and the apocalypse stories, my very own, New Jersey, Mon Amour.’
‘Written in the energetic, high-toned Spanglish that is characteristic of his early short stories, the story caught the judges’ attention with its precise, unflinching prose, and with its brilliant evocation of an immigrant world struggling with modernity. Diaz is a short story writer who gives everything its due – no words are wasted and his characters harbour both a sense of dignity and a wealth of surprise. “I, as a writer, find myself trying as best as I can,” Diaz once said, “to describe not only the micro-culture that I grew up in, but some of what that leads to.” In ‘Miss Lora’ he offers a vivid world of light and darkness; it is a work that echoes in the heart as well as the mind.’
The 2013 judges are award-winning novelists Andrew O’Hagan, Lionel Shriver, Joanna Trollope and Sarah Waters. Completing the line-up are Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, and Lord Matthew Evans, Chairman of EFG Private Bank (non-voting Chair of Judges).
Junot Díaz is the author of Drown (1997) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. His most recent publication (in which ‘Miss Lora’ appears) is This Is How You Lose Her (2012), a collection of linked narratives about love told through the lives of New Jersey Dominicans, as they struggle to find a point where their two worlds meet. He is the recipient of a PEN/Malamud Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Born in Santo Domingo, Díaz is also a professor at MIT.
Readers savoured all six shortlisted stories at two special events at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on March 20 and 21 – produced in conjunction with WordTheatre. These featured readings by a stellar line-up of acting talent including Helen McCrory, Jonathan Pryce and Olivia Williams.
All six shortlisted stories are available in a specially produced ebook, Six Shorts, available at www.amazon.co.uk
Andrew Holgate commented:
‘If the test of an outstanding short story is that it deepens with every reading, then Junot Díaz 's ‘Miss Lora’ passes that test with flying colours. It is a rich, precise and challenging story whose emotional pull becomes more and more apparent with each revisit. Díaz is one of the most exciting voices in the language, and a wonderful addition to an already distinguished list of international winners. The prize goes from strength to strength, the Sunday Times' commitment to it and passion for the short story in general remains very strong, and we are looking forward already to what the 2014 prize will bring.’
For full details of the Award visit: www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/shortstoryaward