The final six stories competing for the £30,000 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award have been revealed, featuring British author Jonathan Gibbs and Scottish writer Rachael Fulton alongside four US writers.
This year's stories explore grief, trauma and hope, with settings including the July War in Beirut, bereaved siblings in Scotland, a family wedding in Ireland, a British theatre production, and the seedier side of children's parties in Los Angeles.
Gibbs is shortlisted for "A Prolonged Kiss" which explores the motivations of a young actress playing Nina in Chekhov’s "The Seagull", and how she "seizes her romantic destiny" by using her staged kiss each evening to seduce her very famous and married leading man.
Journalist and editor Fulton's "Call" is set in Scotland, where two bereaved sisters are living in their parents’ house. Judges called it "small but perfectly formed".
They are shortlisted alongside four American authors: Elizabeth McCracken, Susan Choi, newcomer Laura Demers and Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine, whose new novel will be published by Corsair this autumn.
Alameddine's "The July War" is a coming-of-age story, set amid what the author calls the "traumatic and surreal" experience of the conflict in Beirut. Against the backdrop of war and its fallout, a young teenager faces smaller but no less intimidating personal challenges, including his emerging sexuality, his relationship with his father and the aggressive attentions of a bully and a reluctant friendship with a refugee.
Also listed is "Flashlight" by Choi, which follows a 10-year-old girl and her interaction with a psychologist in the aftermath of her father’s drowning, amid concerns about her behaviour and refusal to confront her grief.
Dermers' "Sleeping Beauty" centres on a children’s entertainer, who scrapes a living attending birthday parties dressed as various Disney Princesses. She arrives at her final booking of the day hung over, late and dishevelled – only to discover that there are no small children present. Instead she is the "surprise" for a 40-year-old man.
McCracken's "The Irish Wedding" is the story a young American woman who meets her British boyfriend’s family for the first time at a wedding in Ireland. Described as "funny, sympathetic and warm", it dissects the unique discomfort and casual absurdities that come from being the outsider in a series of first experiences.
The judging panel comprises 2015 winner Yiyun Li, prize-winning author David Mitchell, bestselling novelist and short story writer Curtis Sittenfeld and Booker-shortlisted novelist Romesh Gunesekera. Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times, completes the line-up.
Holgate said: "This is an extremely powerful and varied list, but what's particularly exciting for me is the way the prize, because of our policy of 'reading blind', keeps unearthing really exciting new talent. In the past it's been Sally Rooney and Louise Kennedy, say; this year it is the American writer Laura Demers, whose presence on the longlist has already caused a stir in the industry, and two exciting British authors in Rachael Fulton and Jonathan Gibbs. It shows how important the award is as a showcase, not just for the world's best English-language short stories, but also for the best new writers."
The winner will receive £30,000, and the five other shortlisted writers will each receive £1,000. The winner will be announced on 8th July. As sponsor of the 2021 award, Audible will produce an audio anthology of the shortlisted stories.
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