Patrick O'Keeffe was named winner of The Story Prize for 2005 with his debut The Hill Road (Viking, July 2005), a collection of four linked novellas. The Story Prize is an annual book award introduced last year to honor the author of an outstanding collection of short fiction with a $20,000 cash award. O'Keeffe was announced January 25, 2006 at an awards ceremony held in New York City at The New School. Finalists, taking away a $5,000 prize each, were Jim Harrison for his book The Summer He Didn't Die (Atlantic Monthly Press) and Maureen F. McHugh for Mothers & Other Monsters (Small Beer Press).
photo: Valerie Laken
The stories of The Hill Road are set mostly in a fictional rural Irish village, similar to where the 42-year-old O'Keeffe - who has primarily lived in the United States since the mid-1980s - grew up. The book was also a Barnes & Noble Fall 2005 Discover Great New Writers selection.
OKeeffe began writing in his late twenties. He holds a degree in English from the University of Kentucky and an MFA in writing from the University of Michigan where he is currently a lecturer. As he unfolded notes for his acceptance speech, he said, "I didn't think this would happen."
Prior to the announcement of a winner, The Story Prize award event featured all three finalists reading selections from their books, followed by a conversation with Larry Dark, Director of The Story Prize. O'Keeffe read from the third novella of his book, entitled "The Postman's Cottage."
The conversation that followed between Dark and O'Keeffe was telling in retrospect. When asked if Ireland would continue to be his subject, O'Keeffe replied, "I don't know. You're happy to get anything as a writer in some way." A beat later he said, "I may never write another word." Dark, who earlier had described O'Keeffe's work as "richly detailed," quickly responded, "I think we will hear more from you. I'm confident."
Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsey selected the three finalists from among 82 books of short fiction published by 44 publishers and imprints in 2005. The finalists emerged from among writers such as James Salter, John Edgar Wideman, Ann Beattie, T.C. Boyle, and Amy Hempel, among others. Judging the winner were Andrea Barrett, a fiction writer and National Book Award winner for her 1996 short story collection Ship Fever (W.W. Norton), Nancy Pearl, a nationally renowned librarian based in Seattle, and James Wood, a senior editor at The New Republic.
The inaugural winner of The Story Prize for 2004 was Edwidge Danticat for The Dew Breaker. Eligibility for The Story Prize requires that books be short fiction, written in English, and first published in the United States during the calendar year under consideration. Entries for 2006 are now being accepted.