The Iowa Short Fiction Award has been presented annually since 1969. In 1988 the University of Iowa Press instituted the John Simmons Short Fiction Award—named after the first director of the Press—to complement the ongoing award series. Both national competitions are juried through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Serious critical consideration is guaranteed by such final judges as Alison Lurie, Raymond Carver, Marilynne Robinson, James Salter, Kevin Brockmeier, and Ethan Canin.
Books by more recent award winners can be purchased from the University of Iowa Press.
Award Year 1987
This fine debut of twelve stories explores a topography of the interior, probing the thoughts, motivations, and little-understood impulses behind moments of aggression, jealousy, and loneliness. Turning her eye on the academic landscape as well as the workaday world, Frucht keenly observes people forging friendships, groping for greater self-understanding, and attempting to find meaning in their lives and loves.
Whether writing about a couple trying to conceive a much-wanted child or a lonely husband mourning the changing political attitudes of his wife, Frucht brings her characters and their lives into memorable focus. She builds a fictional world that resonates with the immediate and the familiar.
Although many books of contemporary fiction document the ways people often fail to communicate, the essential quality of Abby Frucht's characters is that they do communicate—connect—and gain part of what they want from life as a result. These stories are never about despair without also being about hope. They speak to each other as playfully and accidentally as memories do.
Award Year 1988
In The Venus Tree Michael Pritchett powerfully explores the themes of lost innocence— innocence abandoned, stolen, and occasionally regained or revisited. As his characters encounter many emotionally charged and sometimes profoundly unsettling situations, Pritchett's sympathetic writing renders their struggles with deft, compassionate, and lyrical strokes.
In "People," the owner of a souvenir shop on the interstate highway befriends a young woman who he believes can help him overcome the poverty of his own background. A widower in "Time Lines" must come to grips with the death of his wife before he loses the woman who tries to help him through his grief. And in "Flying Lessons," a young man dramatically tries to flee his mother and her strong, damaging influence.
Set in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and other midwestern and western states, these stories have a grit and an authenticity that set them apart from other current fiction. Against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, of open plains and fertile farmland, of skeet shooting and hunting, Pritchett's characters confront lives that reverberate with truth.
Award Year 1987
In these authentic and descriptive tales, Lucia Nevai quietly portrays the lives of a cross section of our times: a reconstituted stepfamily struggling to put down new roots, self-destructive women caught in unfulfilling relationships with men, rural dwellers evoking the basic desires and pains of their unchanging but nevertheless eventful lives.
Award Year 1986
Eminent Domain bears the hallmark of a mature and talented author. While subtle metaphors and analogies resonate throughout the text, the surface of these stories is charged with vivid scenes of fishing, caring for game birds in winter, branding calves in Nebraska, and rescuing a wounded mountain climber.
With both humor and poignancy, Dan O'Brien explores the lives of his diverse characters. In 'The Inheritance,' a businessman goes fishing after the death of his father and realizes, through memories he tries to evade, the richness of the inheritance his father has left him. 'Eminent Domain' tells the story of Willy Herbeck, who's 'dirty, sloppy, unsociable, old-fashioned, moody, bullheaded, and ugly.' But he's also 'got class' and is willing to go to extremes to keep from selling his junkyard to the government.
At ease with a wide variety of characters and complex emotional circumstances, O'Brien enriches his stories with authentic voices and thought-provoking resolutions. These are stories you will return to again and again.—Front flap.
Award Year 1986
"The stories in this accomplished collection range in setting from the West Indies to the Pacific Northwest, presenting characters that include a photojournalist in Haiti introduced to the islanders' belief in zombiism, an ex-policeman working in a paper mill, a hospital patient on New Year's Day, and a teenager practicing martial arts. Their stories are at times grotesque and desperate but always engrossing.
What sets these stories apart from other contemporary fiction is their skilled and evocative sense of place-Working creates atmospheres that almost become separate characters with their own critical significance and influence. Convincing in his portrayal of a harsh, often violent side of life, Working jars us and demands attention.
Award Year 1985
Encompassing a vast gamut of personalities, situations, and emotions, these stories penetrate our motives for doing what is right. Often there is no right or wrong and the characters' motives for the choices they make are as diverse as the childhood memories they cherish and abhor. In the end, this book probes individual impulse and responsibility, creating stories so unerringly authentic that they become-irrepressibly- part of everyone who reads them.
"The Darkness of Love" narrates three days in the life of a black policeman, distressed by his inner fears of racism and irresistibly attracted by his wife's sister. In "Dancing in the Movies" a college student returns to his hometown, where he finds his girlfriend—a heroin addict—and tries to convince her to overcome her habit. There are stories of men at war, of lovers trying to begin a relationship, of others trying to sustain their love. Each story revolves around characters with a choice to make, and Robert Boswell renders these characters in all of their fine, vulnerable, and relentless attributes.
With this prize-winning collection, Boswell proves himself a mature craftsperson, weaving stories both poignant and profound. Each story is a vision of life, alternately dark and joyous, gritty and hopeful.
Award Year 1984
Susan M. Dodd
In these ten varied and keenly rendered tales, Susan Dodd explores the levels of the human heart by leading us through a gallery of feelings, insights, characters, and emotions. Whether writing about a 100-year-old woman in South America, a teenage suicide in Winnetka, a divorced couple meeting by chance, or a pair of lovers listening to the family on the other side of their apartment wall, Dodd places us in a world full of subdued conflict where bonds between loved ones and strangers are tested, broken, and sometimes renewed. Her themes range beyond the regional or contemporary, embracing those moments of loneliness and self-knowledge that confront us all. As the characters meet and separate, wonder and react, we travel with them, exploring the forms of our existence, and the substance of our hearts.
Award Year 1983
These 15 stories meet existence head on through detached narration that has the quality of a feverish dream. The chilling psyche tells a story where there seems to be no story. Even the victim remains dispassionate and lets the reader infer causes and measure threats. In unvarnished, linear prose stripped of sentimentality, Goodman casts the shape of inarticulate emotion. Yet at the heart of her stories about the foolish, the indifferent, and the vicious, between painful connections and violations, there is regenerating laughter or an inexpressible trace of something once whole and beautiful. Beneath Goodman's every absence, there is a compelling, disturbing presence.—Front flap.
Award Year 1982
This prize-winning collection of eight plainspoken stories is set in the raw, elemental sheep country of central and west Texas. Writing from her early absorption into the folk reality of Mexican Americans and southern whites, Dianne Benedict draws indelible people against a canvas alternately chilling and deceptively neutral. With great force and clarity, she deals with the winners and the losers, with the sinister and the comic, with grinding desolation and abrupt illuminations of innocence and grace. These stories reveal the intense inner life and revelation possible when people live so close to the bone of circumstance that ordinary material values fall away--Front flap.
Award Year 1981
Annabel Thomas considers herself something of a recluse, "except when my four children arrive home from college with dirty laundry and ideas rampant." She sings, plays the guitar, rides her bicycle down the country roads near Ashley, Ohio, and writes unceasingly. When asked about the geography behind her unique vision, she tells of the Appalachian Hills where her parents lived; of Columbus, Ohio, where she grew up, earned her B.A. from Ohio State University, and wrote for The Columbus Citizen-Journal; and of her life now in the small farm community where she has helped her husband in his veterinary practice. "I grew up with one foot in the modern urban 'flatlands' and the other in rural, primitive hill country. I believe the pull of different cultures resulted in a sort of double vision, a feeling of standing outside my own times, looking on from a distance." Thomas wrote poetry when she was five and her first novel when she was ten. She has published 26 stories, two of which were selected for O. Henry Prize Stories.—Back cover.
Award Year 1980
The collection of nine stories which won the 1980 Short Fiction Award is woven in a pattern so subtle that reading it is like writing your own nine-part novel. The author allows brief glimpses into the tormented journals of Joseph Quaile, a man of acute compassions and consuming hungers; then juxtaposes them with the fiction Quaile writes to scourge his demons and come to terms with himself and the people he loves. This is a dispassionate intelligence in passionate pursuit of freedom and reconciliation.—Front flap.
Award Year 1979
Mary Hedin writes luminous stories about people we have known in times and places we thought were lost. Full of absorbing everyday details, incandescent flashes of fantasy, and rich layers of imagery, her fiction is sometimes dark and disturbing, but the vision is always humane. A radiant sense of place is dominant in her work–the mountains, vineyards, and suburbs of California, and the lake and farm land of her native Minnesota. Of her writing she says, 'For me it is a central need, a basic drive. I can exist only so long before I must sift through the mysteries of human behavior and clarify my experiences.' Her poetry is widely published, and her fiction has been included in Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. Hedin's variegated, intricately textured collection reflects the intensity and diversity of her life as a professional writer and poet, teacher on the Humanities faculty at College of Marin, wife of a busy general physician, mother of four, community activist, and hostess/cook par excellence for a large, extended family.—Back cover.
Award Year 1978
Chosen from 350 entries, A Nest of Hooks by Lon Otto is the winner of the 1978 Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction. Otto received the $1,000 Award contributed annually by the Iowa Arts Council. This volume of 28 stories is the ninth winner of the Iowa Award. Stanley Elkin, who judged this year's competition, teaches creative writing at Washington University, St. Louis, and has published six books–four novels and two collections.—Front flap.
Award Year 1977
Pat M. Carr
Pat Carr's first collection of stories is a gallery of finely-drawn psychological portraits gathered from worlds as far apart as a small-town Southern childhood and a Peace Corps mission in the jungles of South America. Whether she is depicting a brutal native initiation rite or the small, desperate ironies of a young girl's birthday party, a thread of shared humanity runs throughout. Like the woman who reads cards in "The Witch of Peach Tree Street," Carr displays the fates of her characters in brief illuminating moments. Not just the reflections of a central shaping intelligence, these are women of common circumstances brought to life with uncommon talent.
Award Year 1976
C. E. Poverman
C. E. Poverman has traveled extensively and has worked many job–bartender, dynamiter, housepainter, family counselor and others. He was born in New Haven and received a B.A. degree with honors from Yale in 1966. He taught in Ahmedabad, India, at St. Xavier College on a Fulbright. He then taught briefly at Tham-masat College in Bangkok. Poverman received an M.F.A. degree from The University of Iowa (1969). He taught at the University of Hawaii in 1969-70, then stayed in Honolulu to write and do assorted jobs. He began teaching fiction writing at Yale in 1973. His stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, Playboy, and Fiction International. He just completed a full-length fiction manuscript.—Back cover.
Award Year 1975
This collection of fourteen stories was chosen by Professor George P. Garrett from 230 entries to receive the sixth annual $1,000 Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction. Garrett, the author of four collections of stories, lives in Maine and has also published books of poetry, literature, and film. He has successfully combined the roles of author and instructor. He most recently taught at Princeton.
About the winning book, Garrett says: "In Harry Belten and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, we find in wonderous plenty the full range of short story voices and possibilities. There is a bright originality casting long shadows of grand tradition. Barry Targan is a gifted artist who tells his stories with great energy and with graceful care. This is a rich and various gathering, an admirable addition to the small body of genuinely distinguished fiction made in and for our time.
"The winning book has in my judgment the best claim for its consistent excellence and maximum variety of character, setting, action, and implication within a unity of personal experience and concerns. Targan is not overtly experimental, but he is strong, solid, graceful, and often very subtle." George P. Garrett
Award Year 1974
Natalie L.M. Petesch
This collection of fifteen stories was chosen by William H. Gass to receive the 1974 Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction--Back cover.
Award Year 1973
H. E. Francis
H. E. Francis is a truly gifted writer who manages, in each of his stories, to concentrate with splendor and pathos on a single theme: the oneness of all things, the terrifying completion of the individual who contains within himself the entirety of life. In each instance some multiple interior existence affirms the power and beauty of Iife and the terrible distances between us. But the important thing is that Francis has found new ways to generate from ordinary language a writing voice at once familiar and yet surprising as well and, in its richness, worthy of his amazing human vision and limitless compassion. His work is shockingly profound.
Award Year 1972
"Jack Cady's The Burning has stories that are quite honestly unforgettable--one might almost wish to 'forget' them, because of their power to haunt and disturb, if it weren't for the obvious compassion that underlies their art. The stories are direct, uncluttered, unpretentious. Which is not to say that they aren't ambitious --they are very ambitious indeed. It takes no special critical powers to recognize in Cady an exceptional writer, who is not just promising but has already achieved some remarkable feats. The Burning will introduce an important new writer and will do honor to the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction."--Joyce Carol Oates, finalist judge for the 1972 competition--Front flap.
Award Year 1971
Philip F. O'Connor
With a variety of themes and techniques, Philip F. O'Connor's stories progress in tone from hopeful to nearly hopeless; in subjects from communal to private; in milieu from personal to cosmic. The early stories, set in San Francisco, suggest Mr. O'Connor's Irish-American boyhood. Later stories sharply evoke the toughening experiences of adolescence. Finally, the stories enter an adult world where characters struggle desperately, often comically, in situations that are, at best, thinly hopeful.
From the opening stories, which display a more traditional realistic mode, the fiction moves into lyricism and other experimental prose, with a striking effect on the reader's consciousness. Mr. O'Connor skillfully uses language to activate the senses and to draw one into the characters.
His style alters with the demands of each story. “Each story has its own reasons and its own music,” the author says. The origins of his short stories are not ideas, but fascination with characters. “What people do is what interests me, and fiction is about that.”
Award Year 1970
The Chicago settings for the stories in The Beach Umbrella range from ghetto existence to the élite monde of the Hyde Park-Kenwood black community. Writer David Ray says Colter's work “like that of Sherwood Anderson, or of Nelson Algren, will change the way people think about Chicago.” Colter chooses black men and women at various social levels to illustrate the dreams, foibles, and fears of every man. His studies of everyday crises and interpersonal relationships contain an insight about life itself, one that comes from years of what Lucien Stryk has called “compassionate observation.” Critic George P. Elliott has written that Colter's stories are the best about Negro life he has seen. The Beach Umbrella was selected by novelists Vance Bourjaily and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. to receive the first Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction.