George Saunders wins $67,000 for first Folio Prize

(Courtesy of Random House)
(Courtesy of Random House)

Short story writer George Saunders has won the first Folio Prize, a new literary award worth $67,000.

Saunders’s winning book, a collection called “Tenth of December,” was widely celebrated when it appeared last year. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and just last week, the Syracuse University professor won the $20,000 Story Prize.

In a statement announcing the award, the chair of the Folio Prize judges, Lavinia Greenlaw, said, “Saunders’s stories are both artful and profound. Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them. Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment.”

Reviewing the collection last year in The Washington Post, Jeff Turrentine wrote, “In Saunders, no less than in Orwell, language is routinely mutated and manipulated by the powerful to divide humans and obscure inhumanity. In Orwell, it’s terrifying; in Saunders, somehow, it’s hysterical.”

The Folio Prize was open to all English-language fiction writers who published a book in Britain in 2013. The finalists list for this year’s debut award was dominated by Americans, who took five of the eight spots:

“Red Doc,” by Anne Carson (Canadian).

Schroder,” by Amity Gaige (U.S.).

Last Friends,” by Jane Gardam (England).

Benediction,” by Kent Haruf (U.S.).

The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner (U.S.).

“A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing,” by Eimear McBride (Ireland).

“A Naked Singularity,” by Sergio De La Pava (U.S.).

It was a strikingly diverse list of contenders, which made predictions difficult. In England, where bookies actually put odds on literary contests, Carson’s verse novel was favored to win 3/1. De La Pava’s “Naked Singularity” was originally self-published. McBride’s novel will not be published in the U.S. until September.

In addition to Greenlaw, the other jurors were Michael Chabon, Sarah Hall, Nam Le and Pankaj Mishra. They considered 80 works of fiction, nominated by writers and publishers in a complex process designed to cast a wide net.

The Folio Prize bills itself as “the first major English-language book prize open to writers from all over the world.” The prize is sponsored by the Folio Society, the London-based publisher of fine editions of classic books.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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