Elizabeth McCracken wins The Story Prize For Thunderstruck

An acclaimed author's return to the short story form after more than 20 years earns her the $20,000 top prize.

Elizabeth McCracken

At the end of an evening of readings by and conversation with the three finalists for The Story Prize, author Elizabeth McCracken of Austin, Texas, took the stage at The New School's auditorium and accepted the top prize of $20,000 for Thunderstruck (The Dial Press), a critically praised collection of dark, inventive, and often funny stories about characters undergoing life-altering experiences and struggling to acclimate themselves to loss.

Ms. McCracken's previous short story collection was her debut, Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, published in 1993. With this book, she returned to the form after twenty-one years, having publishing two acclaimed novels and a memoir in the interim.

The other finalists for The Story Prize for books published in 2014 were authors Francesca Marciano for The Other Language (Pantheon) and Lorrie Moore for Bark (Alfred A. Knopf). At the event at The New School, all three finalists read from and discussed their work on-stage with Larry Dark, Director of The Story Prize, before the founder of the prize, Julie Lindsey, announced McCracken as the winner. The $20,000 award she received remains the largest first-prize amount of any annual U.S. book award exclusively for fiction. As runners-up, Marciano and Moore each received $5,000.

Dark and Lindsey selected the three finalists for The Story Prize from among a record 129 books entered in 2014, representing 85 different publishers or imprints. Three judges read the three short story collections chosen as finalists, and their choices determined the winner of the award. They were:

  • Arsen Kashkashian, book buyer and general manager of the Boulder Book Store, in Boulder, Colorado;
  • Noreen Tomassi, Director of The Center for Fiction, in New York;
  • and Short story writer and novelist Laura van den Berg.

The judges called McCracken's book electrifying and cited her as a writer with compassion and as a master of the telling detail:

"Each story in the collection reads like a masterwork, rich and confident and surprising, and together they form an electrifying whole."
"She is the master of the small and perfectly telling detail—the mother's light tap of a hand on her child's coffin, a suitcase fallen over like 'a shot dog,' 'a pair of red and white espadrilles that had run in the rain.' She writes with such an open and compassionate heart that even the most damaged and lost of her characters thrum with life."

In addition to Thunderstruck, McCracken is the author of four previous books: the story collection Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, the novels The Giants House and Niagara Falls All Over Again, and the memoir An Exact Replica of a Figure of My Imagination. A former public librarian, she is now a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, where she holds the James Michener Chair of Fiction at the Michener Center for Writers. She has received grants and awards from organizations such as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the American Academy in Berlin.

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