The American writer, Courtney Zoffness, has won the 2018 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for her story PEANUTS AREN’T NUTS. Zoffness, an exciting and fresh new voice, is only the second ever woman to win the prize. She triumphed over an immensely tough all-American shortlist of established writers that included four other women. The winning story explores the confusing relationship between a high school student, Pam, and her biology tutor, Mr. Peebles, who is arrested in a child-predator sting operation. The story is based on the author’s own personal experience of being taught by someone who was subsequently imprisoned on child pornography charges.
This year the Award saw a record number of entries, with writers from forty countries and seven continents submitting their work. Five out of the six shortlisted stories were by women.
Judge Sebastian Faulks commented, ‘There was something about Peanuts Aren’t Nuts that spoke to all of us. The narrative arc was beset by dangers and required immaculate judgment of tone. It was a high-tariff endeavour, exactly brought off. And at its heart it had that precious thing that underlies the best fiction. It’s not just about giving a voice to the overlooked; it is about valuing the inner world above the outer – dramatically reminding us that this quiet place is where lives are shaped.’
Reflecting upon the short story form, Courtney Zoffness said ‘Short stories don’t have latitude for wasted words or tangents. As a literary writer who values diction and cadence as much as drama, I love working in a form that not only embraces such close attention to language, but depends on it.’
Zoffness lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently an assistant professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at Drew University, New Jersey. She is currently writing a debut novel based on her winning short story.
With the winner’s prize at £30,000, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award is the world’s richest and most prestigious award for an English-language single short story and regularly attracts some of the finest literary talent from around the world. The shortlisted writers each receive £1,000. Past winners and shortlisted authors have included Junot Diaz, Hilary Mantel, CK Stead, Emma Donoghue, Madeleine Thien, David Vann, Colum McCann, Anthony Doerr, Edith Pearlman, Petina Gappah, Elizabeth Strout, Yiyun Li and Ali Smith.
The winner was announced at a gala dinner at Stationers’ Hall in London on Thursday 26th April. The winning story will be published in The Sunday Times on Sunday 29th April and can also be found here.
Now in its ninth year, the Prize retains its reputation for thought-provoking themes. The other stories in this year’s shortlist tackled the subjects of pornography, the abuse of power and Trumpism. In Miranda July’s story, The Metal Bowl, a woman’s inner life is animated by the memory of an amateur pornographic shoot she did in her youth, while in Victor Lodato’s Herman Melville, Volume 1, a young homeless woman must fend for herself in a small Oregon town. Allegra Goodman’s story F.A.Q.s explores the ambivalence and longing that college-aged children feel towards their parents, while Curtis Sittenfeld’s story, Do-Over, describes the moment two old classmates meet shortly after the presidential election of Donald Trump. Molly McCloskey’s story Life on Earth, set in Washington DC, tells the story of a brief affair between two people at opposite ends of the jostling political spectrum.
The judging panel for the Award has always been strong – past judges include AS Byatt, Sir Richard Eyre, Nick Hornby, Will Self, Sarah Waters and Sir Melvyn Bragg. This year’s was one of the most impressive yet and comprised esteemed short story writer and novelist Tessa Hadley; broadcaster and author Mark Lawson; critically acclaimed author and short story writer Petina Gappah; and journalist and bestselling novelist Sebastian Faulks. Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, completed the line-up.
The Award accepts entries of 6,000 words or under published in English from fiction authors from anywhere in the world who have been published in the UK or Ireland. The Award reflects The Sunday Times’ support for outstanding writing and the rich literary heritage of the newspaper, and the ongoing commitment of EFG, a leading international private bank, to the literary world. The Award is managed by the Society of Authors.
Previous winners include US author Bret Anthony Johnston (2017), Chinese American writer Yiyun Li (2015), three Pulitzer prize-winners – US author Adam Johnson (2014), US-Dominican author Junot Diaz (2013) and US author Anthony Doerr (2011) – Kevin Barry from Ireland (2012), UK author Jonathan Tel (2016) and CK Stead from New Zealand (2010).