Elizabeth McCracken

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.”

Author Ann Patchett signs books after her speech at Joynes Reading Room Thursday evening. During her speech, Patchett gave personal examples on how to produce more consistent work in writing.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Novelist Ann Patchett recalled the transformation of her personal style of writing throughout the years as part of the Joynes Reading Room Literary Series on Thursday night.

English professor Elizabeth McCracken introduced the author and reflected on the vibrancy of the writing in her novels.

“Her fiction proves that, in a novel of ideas, the ideas don’t have to squeeze out the characters or the plots,” McCracken said. “She’s one of those writers who is just good at everything.”

Patchett spoke about the fervent writing style of her youth and compared it to her experiences with romance during her 20s.

“When I was in love, there was not a single thing I could do about it,” Patchett said. “It was thrilling and wind-milling and out of control, and that was also the way that I wrote back then. I wrote stories that would come over me like a fever.”

Patchett said that after she began writing professionally, she learned that diligence and self-accountability helped to produce more consistent work.

“I got so much work done by making that deal with myself [to write every day],” Patchett said. “Hours spent working equals work produced. I really realize now that so much of how I learn is by sitting down and committing.”

Plan II senior Lillie Noe said she was surprised by Patchett’s lively demeanor and witty attitude. 

“She has an interesting ability of being able to spend time alone — like a writer has to — but also being able to word things on the fly and be personable with people,” Noe said.

Noe said she will be able to use Patchett’s advice in her academic life.

“I’m editing a friend of mine’s novel … so a lot of her advice about structure and narrative is relevant on a personal level,” Noe said.

In addition to discussing the mechanics of her writing, Patchett offered insight into the nature of creativity.

“Creativity is a match and being a novelist is spending your life in a warm house,” Patchett said. “The fire in that match will not keep you warm. What keeps you warm is splitting wood and constantly doing the work to feed the tiny flame on the match and keeping that alive.”