The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award 2020
SIX AUTHORS IN THE RUNNING FOR THE 2020 SUNDAY TIMES AUDIBLE SHORT STORY AWARD
983 writers from 48 countries distilled to 6 in a shortlist that ‘bears powerful witness to the thrilling possibilities of the short story form’
Louise Kennedy, whose first-time shortlisting for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award last year ignited a feeding frenzy amongst publishers for her debut short-story collection, is back for the second year running in a shortlist that demonstrates the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award’s ability to discover and showcase exciting new talent from around the world.
Alongside Kennedy is another thrilling Irish author in the shape of Niamh Campbell, whose debut novel, This Happy, is published this month. They are shortlisted alongside Zambian author Namwali Serpell, who won the 2015 Caine Prize for her story The Sack, and Alexia Tolas from the Bahamas, who won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Regional Award for the Caribbean. American authors Shawn Vestal, author of Daredevils, and Daniel O’Malley complete the line-up. Four of the shortlistees – Shawn Vestal, Daniel O’Malley, Alexia Tolas and Louise Kennedy – have had their work published in two of the most respected literary journals to champion the short story – Granta and The Stinging Fly.
Now in its eleventh year, the shortlist was chosen by a panel of immensely authoritative judges that includes David Nicholls, Carys Davies, Diana Evans and Romesh Gunesekera, reflecting the Award’s consistent reputation as a prize that showcases outstanding new voices. Past discoveries have included Sally Rooney, Lisa McInerney, whose first novel Glorious Heresies won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Courtney Zoffness, who won the Award in 2018, Roshi Fernando, Rebecca F John, and last year's winner Danielle McLaughlin. Past winners of the prize include three Pulitzer-prize winners.
The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award is the world’s richest and most prestigious prize for an English-language single short story, with the winner receiving £30,000 and the five other shortlisted writers £1,000 each. As sponsor of the 2020 Award, Audible, the leading provider of audio storytelling, will produce an audio anthology of the shortlisted stories, which will be available later in the year. Before then, the stories will be available to read on this website.
'Each one of these outstanding stories took us on an intense and gripping journey into the human heart. With poise, precision, and a light-footed grace, they conjured worlds we believed in completely. From rural Ireland to the Caribbean, from small town to urban America, they opened doors into lives we cared about, in ways which moved and surprised us. It’s a tall order to achieve so much in so few words, and this shortlist bears powerful witness to the thrilling possibilities of the short story form.' Judge Carys Davies
The six shortlisted writers and the titles of their short stories are:
LOVE MANY – Niamh Campbell
SPARING THE HEATHER – Louise Kennedy
SIMON – Daniel O’Malley
TAKE IT – Namwali Serpell
GRANMA’S PORCH – Alexia Tolas
TEAMWORK – Shawn Vestal
About the shortlisted writers and stories:
Niamh Campbell is from Dublin. Her debut novel This Happy is forthcoming from Weidenfeld & and Nicolson in June 2020. Her story Love Many is set in Dublin as a woman recalls her experiences of dating multiple unsuitable men in the lead-up to finally meeting a man she sees a future with, albeit at a huge emotional cost. Love Many is about a search for intimacy and understanding, and is a touching, emotive, truly modern love story.
'This was an original and touching modern love story. It has such a lovely quality of sadness, exquisite language, and is told with so much delicacy.' Judge David Nicholls
Irish writer Louise Kennedy grew up in Holywood, Co. Down. Her writing has been published in journals including Banshee, The Tangerine, Stinging Fly, the Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph. She lives in Sligo, in the north west of Ireland. In Sparing the Heather, an unhappily married woman is having an affair with her English tenant in rural Ireland. When a social event brings them all together for the day, the ensuing tension sees not only the affair come close to being uncovered, but the truth of a darker, long-held secret. Set in the aftermath of The Troubles, this is a tightly-woven story of betrayal and secrets and their impact on family lives.
‘A beautiful, understated story. The landscape, politics and characters are carefully and realistically woven with tremendous technical dexterity in this extremely accomplished piece of writing.’ Judge Carys Davies
Daniel O'Malley is an American writer whose fiction has appeared in many outlets, including Granta. He grew up in Missouri and currently lives in West Virginia, where he teaches in the English Department at Marshall University. His story, Simon, is about a childless couple who take in a mysterious, neglected young boy who emerges from the woods into their garden one afternoon. Although they welcome him fully into their lives, they find that they know no more about him. This is a story both tender and disquieting about responsibility, boundaries and love.
‘This is such a haunting and mysterious tale, but I also loved the undertone of jealousy that ran through it, and the meditation within it on the strain of childlessness.’ Judge Andrew Holgate
Zambian writer Namwali Serpell lives in the US. Her first story, Muzungu, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2009 and shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African writing. Take It is set in Berkeley and follows a homeless teenager as he stumbles across a college party where everyone has cast off their inhibitions – starting with their clothes. Intrigued, he finds himself drawn to an older girl, despite the hostility of her companions. The idea for the story is based on the author’s own experience. It is an original, tense, funny and poignant tale about the opportunities and risks that present themselves when the status quo shifts.
‘Serious, funny, poignant, and satirical, this story burns briefly and brightly, with some lovely imagery.’ Judge Carys Davies
Alexia Tolas was born and raised in the Bahamas. Her writing has been featured in literary journals including Granta, and in 2019, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Regional Award for the Caribbean. Her story Granma’s Porch is a love story which explores the complex relationship between a young woman and a newcomer to her small community. This is a vivid, skilfully woven story about what we learn as we mature and what informs the choices we make in our lives.
‘This confidently written story gives a believable, rounded insight into life in the Bahamas through the voice of its young narrator.’ Judge Diana Evans
American writer Shawn Vestal is the author of the novel Daredevils, the collection of short stories Godforsaken Idaho, and A.K.A. Charles Abbott, a short memoir. He lives in Spokane, Washington. Teamwork is a story about a 1980s high school American football team and follows one disastrous season – on and off the field – through the ups and downs of their emphatic, omnipotent, highly volatile coach. This energetic, evocative story is bittersweet, nostalgic and incredibly funny.
‘I loved this story. It is a carefully crafted, flawless piece of storytelling.’ Judge Romesh Gunesekera
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. 2020 has seen 983 eligible entries, from 48 countries, with all continents (with the exception of Antarctica) represented, demonstrating the multinational reach of the Award.
The judging panel for the 2020 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award comprises novelist and short-story writer Carys Davies; prize-winning author Diana Evans; novelist and screen writer David Nicholls; and acclaimed short-story writer and novelist Romesh Gunesekera. Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, completes the line-up.
Previous winners of the Award include three Pulitzer Prize-winning American authors – Junot Díaz, Anthony Doerr and Adam Johnson – as well as Chinese-American novelist Yiyun Li, CK Stead from New Zealand, Jonathan Tel from the UK, Kevin Barry from Ireland, and Bret Anthony Johnston and Courtney Zoffness from America. Shortlisted authors include Colum McCann, Petina Gappah, Hilary Mantel, Emma Donoghue, Elizabeth Strout, Ali Smith, David Vann, Gerard Woodward, Curtis Sittenfeld, Emma Cline and Miranda July. The 2019 winner was Irish writer Danielle McLaughlin.
The Award’s ‘I Heart Short Stories’ initiative champions the short story in all its guises, offering a digital home for short story authors, critics and enthusiasts to discuss and celebrate this unique form of modern fiction. To further this initiative two new pages will be launched soon on the Award website, including a masterclass series on short story writing, and writers' recommendations for their best short story of all time.
Join in the discussion here: www.shortstoryaward.co.uk/news/i-heart-short-stories #IHeartShortStories
The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award 2020
Thursday 2 July – winner announced
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Full Author Biographies
Niamh Campbell was born in 1988 and grew up in Dublin. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The Dublin Review, 3:AM, Banshee, gorse, Five Dials and Tangerine. She was awarded a Next Generation literary bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland, and annual literary bursaries in 2018 and 2019. She holds a PhD in English from King's College London and has been a postdoctoral fellow for the Irish Research Council at Maynooth University. Her debut novel This Happy is forthcoming from Weidenfeld and Nicolson in June 2020. She lives and works in Dublin.
Louise Kennedy grew up in Holywood, Co. Down. Her writing has been published in journals including Banshee, The Tangerine, Stinging Fly, in the Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph, and read on BBC Radio 4 and RTE Radio 1. In 2019 she was shortlisted for both the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award and writing.ie Irish Short Story of the Year. She is a PhD student at Queens University Belfast where she’s researching the life and work of the writer Norah Hoult. Bloomsbury will publish her debut short story collection, The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac, in January 2021. She lives in Sligo, in the north west of Ireland, and is working on a novel with the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Daniel O'Malley is an American writer whose fiction has appeared in Granta, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, and other publications. His story Bridge was included in 2016's Best American Short Stories anthology and broadcast on the NPR program Selected Shorts. He grew up in Missouri and currently lives in West Virginia with his wife, the poet Mary Beth Ferda, and their two children. He teaches in the English Department at Marshall University.
Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for women writers in 2011 and was selected for the Africa 39, a 2014 Hay Festival project to identify the best African writers under 40. Her first published story, Muzungu, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2009 and shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African writing. She won the 2015 Caine Prize for her story, The Sack. The Old Drift, her first novel, was published in 2019.
Alexia Tolas was born and raised in The Bahamas. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the former College of the Bahamas in 2015. Her writing explores the intricacies of small-island life, heavily drawing upon local mythologies and folktales in order to convey realities silenced by tradition and trauma. Her writing has been featured in literary journals including Womanspeak, Granta, and Adda. In 2019, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Regional Award for the Caribbean.
Shawn Vestal is the author of the novel Daredevils, published in 2016 by Penguin Press. Daredevils was named the winner of the Washington State Book Award. It was published in the UK by One/Pushkin Press, as well as in France, (titled Goodbye, Loretta, by Albin Michel); and in Germany, (titled Loretta, by Kein & Aber). Vestal’s debut collection of short stories, Godforsaken Idaho, published by Little A/New Harvest in April 2013, was named the winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and his short stories have appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, The Iowa Review and other journals. He has published journalism and essays in The Guardian, The New Yorker web site and other outlets. He lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a member of the faculty in the creative writing program at Eastern Washington University.
NOTES TO EDITORS
About the Award
Originally launched by Lord Evans of EFG Private Bank and Cathy Galvin of The Sunday Times in 2010, The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award is the richest prize for a single short story in the English language. Worth £30,000 to the winner, the international annual award aims to promote and celebrate the excellence of the modern short story, and has attracted entries from some of the world’s finest writers.
2019 Danielle McLaughlin
2018 Courtney Zoffness
2017 Bret Anthony Johnston
2016 Jonathan Tel
2015 Yiyun Li
2014 Adam Johnson
2013 Junot Diaz
2012 Kevin Barry
2011 Anthony Doerr
2010 CK Stead