If you asked most book lovers which author has won the most awards this year, they might name famous, even legendary, writers like Alice Munro (winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize), Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, or the like. But they would be mistaken.
Claire Vaye Watkins, author of a single short story collection published in August 2012, Battleborn, holds that distinction. If her name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t berate yourself. While Watkins is quickly making a name for herself among critics, fellow writers, publishing industry watchers, and the short story cognoscenti, she has yet to penetrate the larger commercial or cultural scene.
On November 7, Watkins won the Dylan Thomas Prize, which is intended to encourage “raw creative talent worldwide” and is limited to writers under 30. The prize comes with a check for $48,000. The award was the third this year for the 29-year-old Nevadan who is an assistant professor of creative writing at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Last March she won the $10,000 Rosenthal Family Foundation Award and the $20,000 Story Prize on the same day.
Chair of the judging panel, Peter Florence, said, “Claire Vaye Watkins has some of Dylan Thomas’s extraordinary skill in the short story form of giving you a perfect vision of a complete world and that’s extraordinarily rare.”
Judge Allison Pearson, said, “How exciting is it that in the year when Alice Munro is the greatest exponent of the modern short story by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature that the Dylan Thomas Prize finds another truly remarkable short story writer in Claire Vaye Watkins. At just 29 year old, she is truly gifted.”
Fellow judge Cerys Matthews added, “Battleborn just bubbles. She is such a natural writer. The whole book is so infectious, it leaves you looking forward to what is coming next from this exceptional young author.”
According to npr.org, Watkins told Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, that her stories, set in the American West, were inspired by her childhood in Nevada. “I always say I exist in a constant state of homesickness, and that’s really the context in which I wrote this book, too. You know, I wrote it five months after my mom committed suicide and about three months after leaving the West for the first time to go study [at graduate school] in Ohio, and there was this landscape of grief and homesickness. I’d never written a word about Nevada until then, and I think suddenly being removed from my home and missing, you know, the mountains and the stars and the dry air and the rocks and the spiny plants, just this tremendous, overwhelming homesickness, which surely had to do with my mom’s dying, I guess I kind of felt the need to conjure up Nevada and bring it back to me that way.” http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/11/08/243911838/book-news-claire-vaye-watkins-wins-the-dylan-thomas-prize
Watkins grew up in the desert of rural Nevada and earned a bachelor’s degree at University of Nevada, Reno and an MFA from Ohio State University. Her stories have been published in Granta, The Paris Review, One Story, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, and Best of the West: New Stories from the West Side of the Missouri.
The Dylan Thomas Prize 2013 Shortlist included the following nominees (publishers listed are for the UK editions):
Tim Leach (28), The Last King of Lydia (Atlantic Books)
Marli Roode (29), Call It Dog (Atlantic Books)
Majok Tulba (28), Beneath the Darkening Sky (OneWorld)
Claire Vaye Watkins (29), Battleborn (Granta)
Prajwal Parajuly (28), The Gurkha’s Daughter (Quercus)
James Brookes (26), Sins of the Leopard (Salt Publishing)
Jemma King (28), The Shape of a Forest (Parthian)