By Chris Michaud, Anthony Doerr’s “Memory Wall” is this year’s winner of the Story Prize for best short fiction.
Doerr will receive $20,000, prize organizers announced Wednesday. The other two finalists were Yiyun Li’s “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” and Suzanne Rivecca’s “Death Is Not an Option.”
Previous winners of the Story Prize, founded in 2004, include Edwidge Danticat and Tobias Wolff.
Doerr, from Boise, Idaho, won $20,000 for his book of six globe-spanning short stories about subjects ranging from a Holocaust survivor connecting with childhood friends as her health fails, to an aging Cape Town woman whose memories are stored in cartridges for replay.
“I was a nerdy kid,” said Doerr, author of books “The Shell Collector” and “About Grace,” during an onstage interview before he was announced as winner.
Addressing his stories’ semi-magical or scientific fantasy elements, Doerr, whose mother was a science teacher, said “science and literature are both ways to ask questions about why we’re here.”
“They’re not necessarily disparate elements,” he said. “It’s still a human story, ultimately.”
With his stories’ far-flung settings, from China and Lithuania to Wyoming and South Africa, Doerr said he was able to satisfy the need for writers to “step outside their own experiences” and hopefully depict “a greater variety of human experience.”
Citing a “human commonality,” he said the oft-cited exhortation to “write what you know” shouldn’t discourage anyone from writing about a 16th century washer woman.
He said the prize was particularly gratifying given that “short stories are not maybe the biggest deal in our culture anymore,” with only a few magazines like The New Yorker and Playboy still printing them.