SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED FOR THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SHORT STORY PRIZE
FOUR US WRITERS AND TWO NEW BRITISH VOICES IN THE RUNNING FOR THE 2021 SUNDAY TIMES AUDIBLE SHORT STORY AWARD
‘There’s no equivalent of the Man Booker fiction prize for a short story, but the Sunday Times award must come close…’ Sydney Morning Herald
‘The most prestigious prize for a single short story’ Lit Hub
The final six stories competing for the 2021 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award explore grief and trauma, new beginnings and hope. Announced today, the shortlist for the world’s richest short story award, with £30,000 going to the winner, comprises four American writers and two British authors. The themes and locations of the shortlisted stories include the July War in Beirut, bereaved siblings in Scotland, a family wedding in Ireland, a British theatre production of The Seagull, and the seedier side of children’s parties in Los Angeles.
The six-strong shortlist showcases fresh new British talent in the form of Jonathan Gibbs and Scottish writer Rachael Fulton. Jonathan Gibbs’ short stories have been anthologised in Best British Short Stories 2014 and 2015, and he also curates A Personal Anthology, which invites writers and critics to dream-edit an anthology of their dozen favourite short stories. Rachael Fulton is a Scottish journalist and editor; her short story Call was published in the Bridport Anthology and by The Common Breath in 2020. They are shortlisted alongside four American authors: Elizabeth McCracken, author of seven books and 2015 shortlistee; Susan Choi, who was the inaugural recipient of the PEN/WG Sebald Award in 2010; newcomer Laura Demers who is based in Los Angeles, and Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine, whose new novel will be published by Corsair this Autumn. Four of the shortlistees have had their work published in some of the most internationally respected literary publications to champion the short story – The New Yorker, Granta, The Atlantic and The Paris Review.
‘The six stories on the shortlist are each a gem: within limited space they give us the wide world with its messiness, complexities, and lives lived both in the deepest isolation and with the deepest connection.’
Judge Yiyun Li
‘This is an extremely powerful and varied list, but what’s particularly exciting for me is the way the prize, because of our policy of “reading blind”, keeps unearthing really exciting new talent. In the past it’s been Sally Rooney and Louise Kennedy, say; this year it is the American writer Laura Demers, whose presence on the longlist has already caused a stir in the industry, and two exciting British authors in Rachael Fulton and Jonathan Gibbs. It shows how important the award is as a showcase, not just for the world’s best English-language short stories, but also for the best new writers.’
Judge Andrew Holgate
The six shortlisted writers and the titles of their short stories are:
Rabih Alameddine – THE JULY WAR
Susan Choi – FLASHLIGHT
Laura Demers – SLEEPING BEAUTY
Rachael Fulton – CALL
Jonathan Gibbs – A PROLONGED KISS
Elizabeth McCracken – THE IRISH WEDDING
About the shortlisted writers and stories:
THE JULY WAR:
Rabih Alameddine is the author of the novels Koolaids; I, the Divine; The Hakawati; An Unnecessary Woman; The Angel of History; and the story collection, The Perv. His next novel, The Wrong End of the Telescope, will be published by Corsair in Autumn 2021. This is a coming-of-age story, set amid what the author calls the ‘traumatic and surreal’ experience of the July War in Beirut. Against the backdrop of war and its fallout, a young teenager faces smaller but no less intimidating personal challenges, including his emerging sexuality, his relationship with his father and the aggressive attentions of a bully and a reluctant friendship with a refugee.
‘I loved the story and its cast of characters, all reluctantly shaped and influenced by the conflict they find themselves in. The ordinary absurdity of wartime sees the J D Salinger-esque narrator tentatively – haplessly – navigate his way through his weird normality, which is in itself perfectly captured.’
Judge Romesh Gunesekera
Susan Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. Her third novel, A Person of Interest, was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award.
In Flashlight, a ten-year-old girl sees a psychologist in the aftermath of her father’s drowning, amid concerns about her behaviour and refusal to confront her grief. This is a heart-breaking story about trauma, bereavement and failing relationships, and an exploration of a child’s desperate attempt to achieve agency in her life.
‘Flashlight is an utterly beautiful story, poised and confident, poignant and insightful. In a series of questions and answers between a child and the world, the protagonist Louisa navigates the inarticulable time and space after a loss. The story strikes a perfect balance between the exhilarating intelligence of a precocious child and her struggle masked as a swagger against tragedies.’
Judge Yiyun Li
Laura Demers’ short stories have been published in the North American Review, New Voices, and Granta.com. In Sleeping Beauty, a children’s entertainer scrapes a living attending birthday parties dressed as various Disney Princesses. She arrives at her final booking of the day hungover, late and dishevelled – only to discover that there are no small children present; rather, she is the ‘surprise’ for a forty-year-old man.
‘This is just so well done – and thoroughly gripping. Tension weaves itself seamlessly throughout the narrative: between the protagonist’s projected “perfect” reality and the multi-faceted mess of her inner life, between the appearance of the sun-drenched, affluent Los Angeles suburbs and the undercurrent of seediness that saturates the adult party – and in the children’s party, as our narrator negotiates both the suspicions of the children and the condescension of the adults.’
Judge Andrew Holgate
Rachael Fulton is a Scottish journalist and editor. Her short stories Call and Blood were published in the Bridport Anthology and by The Common Breath in 2020. Another short story, Witches, is due to be published in 2021 and is currently in development as a sitcom. Call is set in Scotland, where two bereaved sisters are living in their parents’ house. This is a poignant and tense story which explores their relationship as they move towards breaking point, as grief, resentment and rivalry all play out.
‘Small but perfectly formed, this is a cleanly written, tightly structured story where the author is always in control. It succeeds in being touching, understated, and very powerful.’
Judge Curtis Sittenfeld
A PROLONGED KISS:
Jonathan Gibbs is the author of two novels, Randall, or The Painted Grape (Galley Beggar), and The Large Door (Boiler House), and a book-length poem, Spring Journal. Art imitates life in this story, as the young actress playing Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull seizes her romantic destiny by using her staged kiss each evening to seduce her very famous – and very married – leading man.
‘A whip-smart, prediction-defying story about a young actor’s love affair not with a person but her art. As the fourth wall between the protagonist and an imaginary audience watching her life falls away, and as life off-stage becomes a research lab for life on-stage, we observe the triumphs and the full cost (with interest) of the Way of the Actor. Required reading for anyone considering marriage with an actor. (Or, possibly, a writer…)’
Judge David Mitchell
THE IRISH WEDDING:
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of seven books, most recently a collection of stories called The Souvenir Museum. Her stories have been published in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and The O Henry Prize. Her last collection, Thunderstruck, won the 2015 Story Prize. In this story a young American woman meets her British boyfriend’s family for the first time at a wedding in Ireland. Funny, sympathetic and warm, this story brilliantly dissects the unique discomfort and casual absurdities that come from being the outsider in a series of first experiences.
‘The Irish Wedding does everything a short story should be doing, and does so most effortlessly. It takes a messy slice of life and opens up to the history and future of a group of affectionate yet not entirely compatible characters. Neither flinching from chaos and the undercurrent of coldness nor shying away from the tangible and intangible connections among the characters, the story gives the readers a bighearted love story.’
Judge Yiyun Li
The winner will receive £30,000, and the five other shortlisted writers will each receive £1,000. The winner will be announced on Thursday 8 July. As sponsor of the 2021 Award, Audible, a leading producer and provider of audio storytelling, will produce an audio anthology of the shortlisted stories.
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.
2021 has seen 903 eligible entries, from over 50 countries, again demonstrating the multinational reach of the Award.
The judging panel for the 2021 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award comprises novelist, short-story writer and 2015 winner Yiyun Li; prize-winning author David Mitchell; best-selling novelist and short-story writer Curtis Sittenfeld; and acclaimed short-story writer and Booker prize shortlisted 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 and Danielle McLaughlin 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 2020 winner was Irish writer Niamh Campbell with her story Love Many.
The prize continues to extend its reach this year, and its championing of the short story form, with the Short Story Library, which launched in July 2020 on the prize website. It features two strands – a regular monthly ‘How to Write’ masterclass by acclaimed writers, about the mechanics of short story writing, and ‘Writer’s Picks’, a video collection of famous writers talking about and championing their favourite short story. Contributions include: Mark Haddon, Colm Tóibín, Yiyun Li, Chris Power, Kevin Barry, Kate Mosse, Tracy Chevalier, Ingrid Persaud, Elizabeth Strout and Sarah Waters.
The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award 2021 key dates:
- Thursday 1 July online London Library Event
- Thursday 8 July Winner announced online
Rabih Alameddine is the author of the novels Koolaids, I, the Divine, The Hakawati, An Unnecessary Woman, The Angel of History, and the story collection, The Perv. His next novel, The Wrong End of the Telescope, will be published by Corsair in Autumn 2021.
Susan Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. Her third novel, A Person of Interest, was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2010 she was named the inaugural recipient of the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award. Her fourth novel, My Education, received a 2014 Lammy Award. Her fifth novel, Trust Exercise, received the 2019 National Book Award for fiction. She teaches fiction writing at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.
Laura Demers’ short stories have been published in the North American Review, New Voices, Granta.com and the upcoming issue of Appalachian Review. She was nominated for the Pen/Robert J Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers in 2017 and was a finalist for the Robert Day Award for Fiction in 2021. She won The Masters Review 2018 Anthology Prize award. She received an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College in London in 2009.
Rachael Fulton is a Scottish journalist and editor. Her short stories Call and Blood were published in the Bridport Anthology and by The Common Breath in 2020. Another short story, Witches, is due to be published in 2021 and is currently in development as a sitcom. She is editor of the local community paper and splits her time between Castle Douglas and Glasgow.
Jonathan Gibbs is the author of two novels, Randall, or The Painted Grape (Galley Beggar), and The Large Door (Boiler House), and a book-length poem, Spring Journal. His short stories have been anthologised in Best British Short Stories 2014 and 2015, and shortlisted for the inaugural White Review Short Story Prize 2013. He curates A Personal Anthology, which invites writers and critics to dream-edit an anthology of their dozen favourite short stories. He teaches Creative Writing at City, University of London, where he is Programme Director for the MA/MFA Creative Writing. He lives in South East London.
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of seven books, most recently a collection of stories called The Souvenir Museum. Her stories have been published in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and The O Henry Prize. Her last collection, Thunderstruck won the 2015 Story Prize. She lives in Austin, Texas, where she teaches at the University of Texas.
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.
2021 Niamh Campbell
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
About The Sunday Times
The Sunday Times, founded in 1822, is Britain’s best-selling quality newspaper. It celebrated its 10,000th edition in May 2016 and has won a clutch of awards for its Insight team investigations unit, its foreign reporting and its magazine features and interviews in particular. At the 2020 Press Awards The Sunday Times’s Insight team took the popular-life scoop of the year, the political editor Tim Shipman won political reporter of the year, chief foreign correspondent Christina Lamb was named broadsheet feature writer of the year and Chris Haslam was selected as travel journalist of the year. www.thesundaytimes.co.uk
Among the acclaimed performers who have narrated works of literature for Audible are Zachary Quinto, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins, Emma Thompson and Jesse Eisenberg. Audible Studios has won a Grammy Award, for its production of Janis Ian’s memoir Society’s Child, and has also been recognised with the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year, for Colin Firth’s performance of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Audible invented and commercialised the first digital audio player in 1997, and has since been at the forefront of the explosively growing audiobook download segment. On average, Audible members listen to Audible content for 2 hours a day. In 2018, Audible customers downloaded nearly 3 billion hours of content. www.audible.co.uk