NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jim Shepard was named winner of the fourth annual Story Prize on Wednesday for his eclectic collection of short fiction, "Like You'd Understand, Anyway."
Shepard, 49, an English professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, won $20,000 for the book, which was also one of five finalists for the National Book Award for fiction.
The collection of 11 first-person stories, published by Knopf, covers subjects ranging from France's post-revolution Reign of Terror and ancient Greece's Battle of Marathon to a town's obsession with high school football in contemporary Texas and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Shepard, who read from the Chernobyl story entitled "The Zero Meter Diving Team," paid tribute to his fellow finalists, British writer Tessa Hadley, cited for "Sunstroke and Other Stories," and Canadian Vincent Lam, a doctor who was nominated for his interconnected, medically themed collection "Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures."
"They compel our interest in lives other than our own," said Shepard.
All three writers read excerpts from their works and spoke briefly about the often-overlooked form.
"I was just saying at lunch today that I'm so tired of short story writers being celebrated over and over and over," said Shepard, known for his often sardonic, irreverent
Shepard said that much of his fiction stemmed from his interest in historical sagas.
He said he was fascinated by the Soviet Union's attempts to hide wrongdoing at any cost in the days after the Chernobyl disaster, which "seemed to have a resonance in our current culture."
Esquire magazine said of Shepard's book, "In a little over two hundred pages, Jim Shepard tells us just about everything we need to know."
The finalists for the award were selected from 74 submitted books.
Reporting by Chris Michaud