Right about now, Adam Johnson is bagging a big prize in London!

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ST Short story Award

With writers Tom McKay and Emma Hamilton, at a reading last night at Foyles bookshop in London (Photo: Tom Pilston)

It’s the world’s most valuable prize for a single short story – and Pulitzer prize-winning Adam Johnson has won it. Just about right now, Professor John Carey, the Sunday Times literary critic and prize judge, is presenting the award at an evening ceremony at the Stationers’ Hall in London.

The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story prize carries a £30,000 prize. The story that was awarded, “Nirvana,” has already been featured in the Book Haven here. (We’ve also written about Adam in a zillion other places – here and here and here and here, for example.) The prize caps Adam’s exceptional year, which has brought him a Guggenheim and a Pulitzer, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.  Which is why we won’t stop crowing about him anytime soon.

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Big boy gets big prize … again.

Adam’s only-slightly-futuristic story describes how a husband uses technology, a dead president, and Kurt Cobain to confront his own grief and to alleviate his wife’s suffering, as she deteriorates from a incurable, wasting disease. Adam built his reputation on the short story form, and although he has most recently been fêted for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, says he is still “deeply drawn to the short story form—its power, its focus, its mission of emotionality.”

Said Adam of “Nirvana”: “I was inspired by a combination of my wife’s struggle with cancer and a friend who took his own life. When my wife was going through chemo, and my friend shot himself, I began asking questions about what our duty is to dying people and the departed, where they go, what remains and how we speak to them and share what they go through.”

In his presentation speech, John Carey described “Nirvana” as “a mind-expanding, futurist story, and a story about redemption.” Another judge, novelist and comic David Baddiel, said, “I loved ‘Nirvana’. It was both sad and, rare in literary-competition-land, funny. Plus it proves that genre fiction – the story is, at heart, science fiction – can work, emotionally and artistically, at the highest levels.”

Adam is the fifth consecutive international winner of the prize, drawn from a shortlist that included Americans Marjorie Celona and fellow Pulitzer prize-winner Elizabeth Strout, as well as three British-based authors, Tahmima Ahnam, Jonathan Tel and newcomer Anna Metcalfe. Each received £1,000. Here’s the cool thing: all six stories will be published as an ebook Six Shorts, available on amazon.

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Last year’s winner … another familiar face.

Previous winners include Dominican-American Junot Díaz (we’ve written about him here and here and here) who won last year’s award with his story “Miss Lora”; Irish author Kevin Barry, whose story “Beer Trip to Llandudno” won in 2012; 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.”

Other judges, besides Carey and Baddiel, included Elif Shafak, internationally acclaimed Turkish novelist, columnist and speaker; Booker-shortlisted novelist and short story writer Sarah HallAndrew Holgate, literary editor of The Sunday Times, and Lord Matthew Evans, chairman of EFG Private Bank and non-voting chair of the judges.

Said Shafak: “Blurring boundaries and crossing genres, the Sunday Times Short Story Award has no doubt an unequalled place for both readers and writers, whether they are established or emerging. This is a truly international platform and the most valuable prize for a single short story. But these are not the only reasons why it matters so much. It is also, as I believe we shall see in the years ahead, a trendsetter in the literary world.


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