American writer Courtney Zoffness has won the 2018 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for her short story "Peanuts aren't nuts".
The winning story explores the confusing relationship between a high school student, Pam, and her biology tutor, Mr Peebles, who is arrested in a child-predator sting operation. The story is based on the author's own personal experience of being taught by someone who was subsequently imprisoned on child pornography charges.
Zoffness is only the second ever woman to win the prize – Chinese American writer Yiyun Li was the first in 2015.
Judge Sebastian Faulks said: "There was something about 'Peanuts Aren’t Nuts' that spoke to all of us. The narrative arc was beset by dangers and required immaculate judgment of tone. It was a high-tariff endeavour, exactly brought off. And at its heart it had that precious thing that underlies the best fiction. It’s not just about giving a voice to the overlooked; it is about valuing the inner world above the outer – dramatically reminding us that this quiet place is where lives are shaped."
Reflecting upon the short story form, Zoffness said: "Short stories don't have latitude for wasted words or tangents. As a literary writer who values diction and cadence as much as drama, I love working in a form that not only embraces such close attention to language, but depends on it."
Zoffness lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently an assistant professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at Drew University, New Jersey. She is currently writing a debut novel based on her winning short story.
With the winner’s prize at £30,000, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award is the world’s richest award for an English-language single short story. The shortlisted writers each receive £1,000. Past winners and shortlisted authors have included Junot Diaz, Hilary Mantel, CK Stead, Emma Donoghue, Madeleine Thien, David Vann, Colum McCann, Anthony Doerr, Edith Pearlman, Petina Gappah, Elizabeth Strout, Yiyun Li and Ali Smith.
The winner was announced at a gala dinner at Stationers’ Hall in London on Thursday 26th April. The winning story will be published in The Sunday Times on Sunday 29th April and can also be found on the prize’s website.
The other stories in this year’s shortlist tackled the subjects of pornography, the abuse of power and Trumpism. In Miranda July’s story, "The Metal Bowl", a woman’s inner life is animated by the memory of an amateur pornographic shoot she did in her youth, while in Victor Lodato’s "Herman Melville, Volume 1", a young homeless woman must fend for herself in a small Oregon town. Allegra Goodman’s story "F.A.Q.s" explores the ambivalence and longing that college-aged children feel towards their parents, while Curtis Sittenfeld’s story, "Do-Over", describes the moment two old classmates meet shortly after the presidential election of Donald Trump. Molly McCloskey’s story "Life on Earth", set in Washington DC, tells the story of a brief affair between two people at opposite ends of the jostling political spectrum.
On his year's judging panel were writers Tessa Hadley, Petina Gappah, Sebastian Faulks and Mark Lawson, alongside Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times.