Author Claire Vaye Watkins was awarded the Story Prize in New York on Wednesday evening for her debut collection, “Battleborn.” As winner she receives $20,000.
Two finalists for the prize -- Dan Chaon for “Stay Awake” and Junot Diaz for “This Is How You Lose Her” -- will receive $5,000 each. The Story Prize is the most significant award in the U.S. dedicated to collections of short fiction.
The judges cited Watkins for her originality and the audacity of her voice, writing in a release about the prize, “In the ten stories in her first collection, Claire Vaye Watkins takes an unflinching look at the apocalyptic dimensions of our culture’s boom-or-bust obsession.... She’s a fierce and original new writer, and ‘Battleborn’ is an astonishing short story collection.”
In “Battleborn’s” first story, “Ghosts, Cowboys,” she folded her real-life history into a surreal, metaphorical fiction. It was her way, she told the Times last year, of “getting the Manson thing out of the way.”
“The Manson thing” refers to Watkins father Paul Watkins, a member of the Manson Family who was away when Manson’s gang committed its notorious murders; he later testified against Manson. Claire was born much later, away from Manson’s haunts, in a tiny town in the Mojave.
The Western landscape informs “Battleborn.” “Out here a person could get turned around and lose his own trail,” she writes in the story “Man-O-War,” “each stretch of nothing looking like the next, east looking like south looking like west, not knowing where he came on the lake bed, and not knowing how to get home.”
This year marks the ninth anniversary of the Story Prize. I served as a judge for the 2009 prize, which was one of just two others awarded to a debut collection -- Daniyal Mueenuddin’s “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.”