Jhumpa Lahiri Wins the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award

There was a brouhaha in New Zealand recently about the judges in the Montana Book Awards issuing a shortlist of four contenders for the fiction category, rather than the expected five. Now the judges of the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, for which my short story collection Transported (which you can buy online through Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad, or in person at an increasing range of bookshops) was longlisted, have gone one better: they have decided to dispense with the shortlist entirely and award the prize to Jhumpa Lahiri for her collection Unaccustomed Earth. This means that five other writers are denied the opportunity of their books appearing on the shortlist, with the consequent publicity and potential sales this would bring.

The arguments for and against this move are pretty much the same as for the Montana. On the one hand, the judges are appointed to make their decision based on their experience, and that decision should respected; on the other, getting shortlisted for awards can be a lifeline for less well-known authors – this is certainly the case for the Montanas. But, having said that the decision on the Montanas should be left to the judges, I have to be consistent and say that it’s their call here as well. If Unaccustomed Earth was so much better than the competition, then it’s only fair it should win.

But there’s one point on which I do take issue with the judges: according to the Guardian, they said that

With a unanimous winner at this early stage we decided it would be a sham to compose a shortlist and put five other writers through unnecessary stress and suspense.

I have to say, judges: you could have put me through the stress and suspense of being on the shortlist, and I wouldn’t have complained one bit. I would have been very grateful!

Frank O’Connor Transported to Montana

A few bits and pieces that relate to earlier posts:

Frank O’Connor Award: In addition to the interviews with New Zealand award longlistees Elizabeth Smither and Tim Jones, an interview with Witi Ihimaera about his longlisted short story collection Ask The Posts of the House is now up at The Good Books Guide.

Transported: I’ve now seen reviews from Craccum (Auckland University student newspaper), the Chronicle (Wanganui and Horowhenua) and the Nelson Mail. All have been positive. Jessica Le Bas, in the Nelson Mail, had some very nice things to say:

I read Jones’s first story, Rat Up a Drainpipe, and couldn’t put it down. I laughed out loud, and felt unusually good. It was fast paced and full of quirky incidents. When it ended I wanted more.

Typical of Jones, Transported crosses genres. There’s science fiction, comedy and satire, and even a few tales involving global warming. The Wadestone [sic] Shore has Pete rowing around a drowned Wellington foreshore between high-rise buildings, trawling for treasures. The seat of government has moved to Taupo. You have to laugh, but should we?

Jones’s bag of literary tricks is witty and refreshingly humorous. He’s not new to the literary scene, but with Transported, his second short story collection, he will not linger in the background again. Bring it on, Tim Jones!

That’s both very flattering, and a better summary of the book than any I’ve been able to come up with. Thank you, Jessica!

Montana Book Awards: Something of a furore has erupted over the fact that four, rather than the specified five, fiction titles have been shortlisted for the Montana Book Awards. Graham Beattie had a real go at the topic in his blog, and much fulmination has ensued.

I’m not in the camp that is treating this as a major scandal. Of course, I might feel differently if Transported had been among the books in contention (as it will be, perhaps, in 2009); but I think that the judging of literary awards is a subjective thing, a matter at least as much of the judges’ preference as of objective literary merit – if one allows the existence of such a thing.

Therefore, once the judges have been selected, they need to be left to get on with it. As long as their decisions are honestly arrived at – as I’m sure they were in this case – then there isn’t much point in second-guessing them.

Transported Longlisted for 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award

I’ve been blogging like crazy this week, but there’s good reason for one more post: my short story collection Transported (which you can pre-order online), which will be published by Random House New Zealand in June, is one of four New Zealand short story collections longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

The New Zealand collections longlisted are:

  • Transported, Tim Jones (Random House New Zealand)
  • Etiquette for a Dinner Party, Sue Orr (Random House New Zealand)
  • The Girl Who Proposed, Elizabeth Smither (Cape Catley)
  • Ask The Posts Of The House, Witi Ihimaera (Raupo)

The Guardian has the full longlist of 39 books and an article about it.

I’m really pleased about this, but it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. It’s a longlist – a looooong longlist. The quality of the other New Zealand selections (congratulations to all the authors!) indicates the strength of the field. The shortlist is announced in July, and I don’t expect Transported to be on it – but I won’t deny that I’ll be very pleased if it is!

It’s also good to see a prize specifically for short story collections, which are sometimes neglected beasts in the literary zoo.

UPDATE: If you’re looking for a review copy of Transported, or other ‘official’ publicity material about the book, please contact Jennifer Balle, jennifer (at) randomhouse.co.nz