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Jury throw out shortlist in Frank O'Connor prize

Stunning twist as jury throw out shortlist in world's richest short story prize

Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2008

In a stunning twist, the jury of the 2008 Frank O'Connor Award, the world's largest prize for a short story collection (â‚35,000/$54,000), have bucked international trends and dispensed altogether with a shortlist to announce an outright winner, Jhumpa Lahiri, for her collection, Unaccustomed Earth.

In the literary world, where it is near standard for each award to be accompanied by leaked stories of jury in-fighting and controversy over the choice of eventual winners, the The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award in association with the Irish Times, funded by Cork City Council and organised by the Munster Literature Centre, has once again shown its capacity for independent thinking.

Despite a longlist containing such internationally renowned names as former Booker winner Roddy Doyle and 2007 Booker winner Anne Enright, the jury - Granta Fiction Editor Rosalind Porter, Cork City Chief Librarian Liam Ronayne and Irish Times Literary Correspondent Eileen Battersby - came to the unanimous decision that Ms Lahiri's collection should be the outright winner.

In fact, so unanimous was their decision to choose Unaccustomed Earth - which debuted in the number one slot on the New York Times Bestseller list, an almost unheard of achievement in recent times for a serious work of fiction - it was decided not to go ahead with the process of compiling a shortlist, which is usually announced in July, with the award presented in September.

Director of the FOC Award, Pat Cotter, speaking yesterday said:

"With a unanimous winner at this early stage we decided it would be a sham to compose a shortlist and put five other writers through unnecessary stress and suspense. Not only were the jury unanimous in their choice of Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth as the winner, they were unanimous in their belief that so outstanding was Lahiri's achievement in this book that no other title was a serious contender."

The FOC award, now in its fourth year and going from strength to strength, has attracted controversy in the past when writers such as Alice Munro and William Trevor failed to make the shortlist let alone win the award and last year, on the eve of the award, 2008 jury member Ms Battersby, published an article in the Irish Times which was highly critical of the Award's previous choice of winners and failure to recognise the more internationally renowned short story practioners. This year's early announcement and highly unusual decision not to follow through on the traditional process of selection, once again, reinforces the Award's growing reputation for an unusual independence of spirit.

Ms Lahiri was born in England, in 1967, to Bengali Indian parents who moved to America when she was three. Her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize - another rare achievement for a short story collection - and sold a staggering 600,000 copies. Her 2003 novel, The Namesake, was made into a successful film of the same name. Ms Lahiri lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Ms Lahiri will travel to Cork in September to be presented with the Award in a special ceremony in City Hall at the end of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival and she will also give a reading and conduct a public interview with jury member and Irish Times Literary Correspondent Eileen Battersby.


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