Six finalists for the 1981 PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction, the nation's only major literary prize judged, administered and funded by writers, were announced today.
Judges for the second annual award -- novelists Walker Percy, John Hawkes and Wesley Brown -- will choose one winner among "Sixty Stories" by Donald Barthelme (Putnam), "Take Me Back" by Richard Bausch (Dial), "The Chaneysville Incident" by David Bradley (Harper & Row), "Ellis Island and Other Stories" by Mark Helprin (Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence), "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and "A Flag for Sunrise" by Robert Stone (Knopf).
The winning author will receive $5,000, and each of the other nominees $1,000, at the award ceremony on April 10 in the Rotunda of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.
The judges, aided by an advisory board composed of Bernard Malamud, Ann Beattie, Vance Bourjaily, Shirley Hazzard and Grace Paley, considered over 250 works of fiction published during 1981 before settling on the six nominees. Using publishers' catalogues, notices in Publishers Weekly and newspaper book review sections, "we are very careful to see that no book is overlooked," says novelist Mary Lee Settle, who acts as a spokesperson for the award. "The only criterion is excellence."
The prize, first given last year to Walter Abish's 1980 novel "How German Is It," is sponsored by PEN, the national writers' organization, and the PEN South chapter, headed by Settle. The award is financed entirely by 40 patrons -- among them, Malamud, Philip Roth, George Plimpton, Doris Grumbach, Peter Mathiessen, Herman Wouk, Arthur Miller and John Hersey -- and a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
The PEN/Faulkner Award was conceived initially as a writers' protest against the death of the venerable National Book Awards (for which writers chose the winners) and its replacement by The American Book Awards, dominated by the publishing industry. But the new prize rapidly became a coveted distinction it its own right, drawing scores of supporters from among America's most celebrated authors, including Saul Bellow, Tim O'Brien, Elizabeth Hardwick, William Gass, Alison Lurie, William Styron and Wallace Stegner. The judges and advisors for 1982 will be Toni Morrison, Abish, Richard Price, Malcolm Cowley, E.L. Doctorow, Reynolds Price, Ann Tyler and Susan Sontag.
Aside from the esteem of the award itself, Settle says, the selection process also aids the literary community by drawing attention to promising authors. "The way the commercial hype is going now in publishing," says Settle, "so many good books just fall by the wayside" for want of promotion. "This could be the one chance a novelist gets to have his peers read his book."