By Dennis Abrams
The Guardian reports that Junot Diaz, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead) as well as a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, has defeated a strong list of British writers to take home the world’s richest prize for a single short story.
The story, “Miss Lora,” which is included in his latest collection, This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead), is about a teenage age boy who has a relationship with an older woman in 1980s New Jersey. It bested entries from such top British authors as Mark Haddon, Ali Smith, and Sarah Hall to take the £30,000 (roughly $45,000) Sunday Times EFT Private Bank short story prize.
On learning of the award Diaz remarked that his “young self would never have imagined me winning this as long as I live. It seems utterly disingenuous but [winning] was so astonishing — I had completely written the whole thing off. I’m one of those people whose ability to convince themselves that something is a done deal is legendary. For me it’s a remarkable thing that there’s a prize celebrating and honoring and making for a brief moment short fiction the center of the literary universe. We get so many people saying short fiction is not economical, that it doesn’t sell; but there are so many of us enjoying writing it and reading it. So it’s wonderful to be around people who love short fiction too — it’s like hanging around with my tribe.”
Judge and novelist Andrew O’Hagan (who was joined on the judging panel by Lionel Shriver, Joanna Trollope and Sarah Waters), called the story “a contemporary classic,” adding that Diaz’s story stood out “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,” O’Hagan said. “No words are wasted, and his characters harbor both a sense of dignity and a wealth of surprise. ‘I, as a writer, find myself trying as best as I can,’ Diaz one 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 in the mind.”
Recent winners of the award include Kevin Barry, Anthony Doerr, and CK Stead.