Jonathan Tel has become the first British writer to win the £30,000 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award with his “beautifully observed” story "The Human Phonograph".
"The Human Phonograph" is set in the mysterious Factory 221 in Qinghai and examines the relationship between a husband and wife who have not seen each other for seven years. It also won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Judge and author, Rose Tremain said: "The hesitant relationship between a husband and wife who barely know each other forms the basis of this troubling, well-wrought story, set on a Chinese nuclear base in the 1960s and 70s. But it is the image taken from the title - of a man who, in a silent, punitive and desolate world, can remember the old songs and sing them perfectly every time - that elevates it to something truly memorable. The decision to award the prize to this work was unanimous among the judges and we all feel that Jonathan Tel has a bright future as a fiction writer".
Andrew Holgate, judge and literary editor of the Sunday Times said: "Jonathan Tel’s winning story is a remarkable and very moving feat of storytelling and it’s all the more remarkable when you consider the huge number of entries we had this year – over 800, a record for the prize."
Tel’s published books include a story collection about Israelis and Palestinians, Arafat’s Elephant (Counterpoint), which was shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award; a novel, Freud’s Alphabet (Simon & Schuster), and The Beijing of Possibilities (Other Press), a story sequence that unfolds in contemporary China, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Award.
Tel beat off competition from five other “exceptional” writers – American Edith Pearlman, author of over 250 works of short fiction; the Irish writer Colum McCann, Man Booker longlisted author of Transatlantic (Bloomsbury); Zimbabwe’s Petina Gappah, winner of the Guardian First Book Award and longlisted for the Baileys Prize 2016; and American writer Alix Christie and Canadian novelist Nicholas Ruddock, both of whom set their stories in European cities.
This year’s judging panel also comprised of broadcaster and novelist Melvyn Bragg; critic and commentator Alex Clark; novelist and short story-writer Mark Haddon. The non-voting chair of judges was Lord Matthew Evans, who co-founded the award in 2010.
Tel was presented with a cheque for £30,000 this evening (22nd April) at a gala dinner hosted by EFG at Stationers’ Hall in London. The five other shortlisted writers each received £1,000.
The winning and shortlisted stories can be found on the prize's website.
Last year, Yiyun Li became the first woman to win the prize with her story "A Sheltered Woman".