The Washington Post

Ben Fountain wins $10,000 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize

"Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” has received widespread praise since it was published in May. (Courtesy of Ecco)

In its laudatory review, The Post called “Billy Lynn” a “Catch-22” “updated for a new era.” The story takes place on Thanksgiving Day when a squad of U.S. soldiers comes back from Iraq to be special guests at a Dallas Cowboys game.

At a time when Iowa Workshop writers barely old enough to drink make splashy debuts, 54-year-old Fountain is hardly your typical “first” novelist. After leaving a career as a real estate lawyer, he toiled away for almost 20 years before his breakthrough success with a collection of short stories called “Brief Encounters with Che Guevara” (2006). Four years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Fountain in a New Yorker essay about late-blooming geniuses.

His short fiction has garnered two Pushcart Prizes, an O. Henry Award, a Whiting Award and a Hemingway/PEN Award. But this year, “Billy Lynn” has raised him to a whole new level of prominence.

It’s not a position that Fountain seems to crave. In September, he was part of a glittery collection of famous writers reading short essays about “resilience” at the Folger Library in Washington. He was quiet and reserved, as though uncomfortable with all the attention. But resilience is a subject he knows well.

Ron Charles is The Post’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.

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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