Earlier this month, professor of English Andrea Barrett was nominat- ed as one of three finalists for the Story Prize, a prominent annual award for short fiction published in the United States, for her collection of intercon- nected short stories, Archangel.
The Story Prize judges chose Arch- angel as a finalist out of 96 books pub- lished in 2013, the 10th anniversary of the prize. The other two finalists are George Saunders’ Tenth of Decem- ber, one of the most highly critically acclaimed books of 2013, and Re- becca Lee’s Bobcat, the author’s first published short story collection. The award includes a $20,000 prize for the winner and $5,000 prizes for the two runners-up. Past winners of the award include famed author Tobias Wolff in 2008 for his work Our Story Begins, and James Shepard, another current professor at the College, for his 2007 fiction collection entitled Like You’d Understand, Anyway.
“This is an especially cherished prize for those of us who write stories, as it helps bring more readers to sto- ries in general – and with some luck the nomination will help with Arch- angel too,” said Barrett, regarding the impact such a prize can have on the public reception of creative writing.
Barrett, expressing her excite- ment over the recognition of her work along with other valuable pieces of literature, said, “I’m just generally delighted to be in the company of work I admire so much. The two other finalists this
year are books I cherish and gave to many friends this past year; I’ve read both collections several times and have already taught some of the stories.”
Barrett’s work, described by the MacArthur Foundation as infused with a “love of science and abiding interest in natural history,” finds its inspiration in her early train- ing in biology as an undergradu- ate at Union College and later as a doctoral student in a zoology program. The incorporation of the history of science in her work is evident, especially in the nominat- ed Archangel, which is comprised of five stories set between the late 19th century and the Second World War that wrestle with the social implications of the emerg- ing scientific theories of the time, such as Darwinism and relativity.
Barrett remarked, “My early education in science fired my in- terest in the subjects of all five stories. The other major impetus was the large cast of characters I’ve been working with across various novels and stories over the years; not only are all five stories tied together, but they’re also tied to earlier works.”
Many of the characters high- lighted throughout Archangel find either their prequels or alternate plotlines in her other published works. For Barrett, gaining closure on the storylines of her previous novels’ fictional characters creates momentum for her writing of Arch- angel. She said, “Somehow, those links generate stories for me.”
Although the Story Prize is only celebrating its 10th anniver- sary now, the College boasts an- other nominated finalist, Shepard, its 2007 winner and recipient. Shepard, who teaches creative writing and film, is also the author of six novels, which include the titles Project X, Nosferatu, Lights Out in the Reptile House and Kiss of the Wolf, as well as two prior collections of short stories, Love and Hydrogen and Batting Against Castro. He has written two screen- plays, one of which was a movie adaption of his novel Project X. Barrett commented, “I’m pretty thrilled for our books to be linked in this way.”
Shepard, regarding the sig- nificance of such a prize, stated, “I think the creators of the Story Prize wanted to do what they could to draw attention both to short stories and to achievements in the short story form. As you know, even a lot of people who read literary novels frequently shy away from reading collections of short stories. The Story Prize is an admirable attempt to get some buzz going about the latter.”
A ceremony will be held at the New School in New York City on March 5, 2014, at which the three finalists will do readings of their work and participate in discus- sion with the director of the Story Prize, Larry Dark, concluding in an announcement of the 2013 winner by the prize’s founder, Julie Lindsay. General admission tickets to the event are $14.