American author Susan Choi has won the 2021 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award with her "luminous" story "Flashlight".
Choi is the fourth woman in four years to win the award, following in the footsteps of Niamh Campbell, Danielle McLaughlin and Courtney Zoffness. "Flashlight" follows a 10-year-old girl who sees a psychologist in the aftermath of her father’s drowning, amid concerns about her behaviour and refusal to confront her grief.
The author said she was "truly stunned" to have won. "The short story is my first love and first heartbreak—I started writing novels because I could never get a short story right," she said. "So to have these judges I admire so much suggest that I got this one right, and to be in the company of these 14 extraordinary authors on the longlist, and part of the history of this remarkable prize, is an honour I never could have imagined. No disrespect to the integrity of Andrew Holgate, but when he told me I’d won I thought he might be pranking me. Thanks to him, his fellow judges, my fellow longlisted authors, and everyone else involved in the STASSA."
Judge David Mitchell said: "This story maps the moves, feints and thrusts in a double-duel between the young protagonist Louisa and her child psychologist; and between the Louisa who wants to live and thrive, and the Louisa who believes she doesn’t deserve to. The dialogue is probing, unexpected and ever-plausible. 'Flashlight' depicts the guilt, self-blame and the overwhelmingness of childhood crisis, without once slipping into syrup. The ending is the subtlest of beginnings; and, by virtue of this subtlety, it is luminous."
Fellow judge Andrew Holgate added: "What you want from a great short story is depth and intensity, and Susan Choi’s 'Flashlight' delivers those in spades. Apart from all its other virtues what is particularly impressive is the clarity of her understanding of a 10-year-old mind locked inside traumas it can’t quite comprehend. Absolutely superb."
Choi’s first novel, The Foreign Student (HarperCollins), won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. Her second novel, American Woman (HarperCollins), was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. Her latest novel Trust Exercise (Serpent’s Tail) won the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction. She teaches fiction writing at Yale and lives in Brooklyn.
The panel of judges included novelist, short-story writer and 2015 winner Yiyun Li, prize-winning author David Mitchell, bestselling novelist and short-story writer Curtis Sittenfeld, acclaimed short-story writer and Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Romesh Gunesekera, and Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times. This year saw 903 eligible entries from more than 50 countries.
Audible is sponsoring the award for the third year running, and will produce an audio anthology of all the shortlisted entries, which will be available to listen to from 8th July.
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