Creative writing professor wins $20,000 Story Prize for short story collection

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Creative writing professor Elizabeth McCracken received the $20,000 Story Prize for her short story collection, “Thunderstruck and Other Stories,” in New York City on Wednesday. 

The Story Prize is an annual award presented to an author for “an outstanding collection of short fiction.” The Story Prize director, an advisory board member and three independent judges select the winners. McCracken’s book, “Thunderstruck,” was selected from among 129 other short story collection entries. 

McCracken, who has authored one memoir and two collections of short stories, said she believes writing short stories like “Thunderstruck” is much different than authoring novels. 

“I can never decide whether I find short stories harder than novels or the other way around,” McCracken said. “Novels are more forgiving. You can digress and go on; short stories need to be more focused. But they’re definitely sprints and not marathons.”

McCracken said she eliminated external distractions to focus on writing “Thunderstruck.”  

“I shut myself in my office in [Calhoun Hall], and I turned off my Internet,” McCracken said. “I changed my EID password so I couldn’t check my e-mail on campus even if I wanted to, and then I just wrote for hours at a time. I hunkered down. It’s the only way I know how to do it.”

English associate professor Coleman Hutchison said McCracken’s use of metaphors in her stories resonates with readers.

“She does things with language, especially figurative language, that are arresting and unusual and things that will stick with a reader — not just beyond the page, but sometimes for the rest of their lives,” Hutchison said.

Vincent Scarpa, master of fine arts candidate at the Michener Center for Writers and one of McCracken’s former writing workshop students, said McCracken’s insight into the human condition set her apart from her peers during the Story Prize selection process.  

“There were no shortage of wonderful story collections that came out last year, but none as smart and as impressive as ‘Thunderstruck,’” Scarpa said. “No one is better at coaxing out of the familiar something new that surprises, disturbs, delights and haunts — sometimes all at once. Her magnifying glass on the human condition is a remarkable thing.”