Laura Mayer is an Associate Producer at WNYC.
Anticipation was high at the Story Prize event at The New School's Tishman Auditorium last week. The three Story Prize finalists—Anthony Doerr ("Memory Wall"), Yiyun Li ("Gold Boy, Emerald Girl") and Suzanne Rivecca ("Death is Not an Option") read from their short story collections, knowing that, at the conclusion of the reading, one of them would win $20,000. Anthony Doerr came out the winner.
Meant to honor the short story form, the Story Prize award is the largest first-prize amount of any U.S. fiction award. The other two finalists each received $5,000. Click above to hear the audio from all three Story Prize participants as they read selections from their works. Larry Dark introduces the authors. The readings are followed by a question-and-answer session with Larry Dark, the Story Prize director. "I'm sorry to say that James Franco can't be here tonight," Dark joked, referring to one of the hosts of this year's Oscars awards. "So, I'll be hosting."
Anthony Doerr on the pressure of reading at the Story Prize event: "It's a little crazy when you're giving a reading, there's a small chance that you might get a trophy at the end of it. You're like: 'Maybe I shouldn't curse! Should I cut out the curse words?' It's nice to know that they've already made their decision."
Doerr on the influence of science in his writing: "I grew up with a mother who was a science teacher. We were the nerdy kids who had to identify all the bugs in the neighborhood. I've always believed that it's a little bit artificial to have the science building on one end of a university campus and the liberal arts building on another. I think they're both ways to ask questions about why we're here—science and literature. I don't necessarily see them as disparate fields."
Yiyun Li on communicating with other writers in her work: "Oftentimes I feel like you write to talk to your master...I spend most of my days talking to dead people. I mean, I think, in a way, reading is a very good way to talk to people that you don't have access. So, I talk to Tolstoy often. He can hear me, but he doesn't laugh at me."
Li on the influence of eavesdropping on her work: "I'm a very nosy person, so I eavesdrop a lot. And there are all sorts of ways to eavesdrop. You can go into the subway to listen to conversations on the phone. Or you can also go onto the Internet. For awhile I was working on a book...and I read online that there was this young woman in China who, when she was 17, she thought her father was having an affair with another woman. So, what she did was she waited until she turned 18 so she could sue her father...She didn't have a case, so she built a blog. The blog's title was 'My Father is Less a Creature than a Dog or a Pig because He Sleeps with Another Woman.' I was fascinated by this young woman's hatred. I sort of stalked her online. I followed her website every day. There were many women who would leave comments...As a nosy person I thought about leaving a message condemning her. I thought about making up an identity to do that."
Suzanne Rivecca on dedicating her book to a tiger: "The tiger that the book is dedicated to is a Siberian tiger named Tatyana, who, until 2007, lived in the San Francisco Zoo. There was an incident on Christmas Eve where these three guys broke into the zoo after hours. They were kind of taunting the tiger, throwing stuff into her cage. They were all drunk. The tiger leaped out of her enclosure, hunted them down, killed one of them, injured the other two. The police came and immediately shot the tiger through the head and killed it. When it happened my sympathies were firmly in line with the tiger."
Rivecca on the title of her collection "Death is Not an Option": "I wanted the title to reflect the fact that the book is a little bit provocative, it has a little bit of an edge, and isn't about sweet coming of age milestones of young girls. I think the harshness of it, of having the word death in the title, kind of underscored that."