A ‘vivid’ tale of underage lust, ‘Miss Lora‘, wins Sunday Times short story award for Junot Díaz
Photo: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
American author Junot Díaz, winner of both a Pulitzer and a MacArthur “genius” grant, has beaten a strong lineup of British writers to take the world’s richest prize for a single short story.
Díaz’s story, “Miss Lora”, is about a high-school-age boy having a relationship with an older woman in 1980s New Jersey, and is written in the “Spanglish” for which the Dominican-born writer is known.
It beat entries from top British authors including Mark Haddon, Ali Smith and Sarah Hall to be named winner of the £30,000 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank short story prize this evening.
Judge and novelist Andrew O’Hagan called it a “contemporary classic”.
Díaz, who took the Pulitzer for his debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, said his “young self would never have imagined me winning this as long as I live”.
“It seems utterly disingenuous but [winning] was so astonishing – I had completely written the whole thing off. I’m one of those people whose ability to convince themselves that something is a done deal is legendary,” he said. “For me it’s a remarkable thing that there is a prize celebrating and honouring and making for a brief moment short fiction the centre of the literary universe.
We get so many people saying short fiction is not economical, that it doesn’t sell; but there are so many of us enjoying writing it and reading it. So it’s wonderful to be around people who love short fiction too – it’s like hanging around with my tribe.”
The author called “Miss Lora” a “challenging” story to write. “We tend, as a culture, to think of boys having underage sex quite differently to how we think of girls. I find that quite disturbing, and wanted to question the logic of that,” he said. “If a boy has sex with his teacher, people under their breath are kind of high-fiving the kid. If a 16- or 15-year-old girl has sex with an older teacher – forget about it. No one’s celebrating. That seemed really strange.”
Díaz said he grew up “with so many young men who had experiences when they were teenagers with older women”, and was interested in writing about the issue. “The silence around it is pretty enormous,” he said. “I think it is a conversation we need to continue to have.”
O’Hagan, who was joined on the judging panel by the novelist Lionel Shriver, Joanna Trollope and Sarah Waters, said Díaz’s story stood out “with its precise, unflinching prose, and with its brilliant evocation of an immigrant world struggling with modernity”.
“Díaz is a short-story writer who gives everything its due,” said O’Hagan. “No words are wasted and his characters harbour both a sense of dignity and a wealth of surprise. ‘I, as a writer, find myself trying as best as I can,’ Díaz once said, ‘to describe not only the micro-culture that I grew up in, but some of what that leads to.’
In ‘Miss Lora’ he offers a vivid world of light and darkness; it is a work that echoes in the heart as well as the mind.”
The American author joins former winners of the £30,000 award including Kevin Barry, who won last year for his story “Beer Trip to Llandudno”, American Anthony Doerr, who won in 2011 for his story “The Deep”, and New Zealander CK Stead, who took the first prize in 2010 with “Last Season’s Man”.
Source: The Guardian