September 22, 2003

Ursula K. LeGuin on The PEN/Malamud Award

Ursula K. Le Guin on The PEN/Malamud Award, November 2002

The PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction has been given annually since 1988. It has gone to a lot of excellent writers, including excellent short writers, such as Grace Paley. It involves a prize of $5000, a reading in the Folger Library in Washington DC., and a very nice party.

Some of the PEN awards generate a lot of attention, but others, like PEN West and this one, seem to be quite well-kept secrets. I had barely heard of it myself when PEN contacted me about it. I have seen absolutely no press notices about this year's award.

This silence is a pity, as the short story is always getting scrunched by the novel, and the award could help remind people that stories are a great form of fiction.

Besides, it's annoying when people correct you about your award. You explain that you went to DC for the PEN/Malamud, and they say kindly, "Oh, the PEN/Faulkner award, you mean." All you can do is say Malamud! Malamud! and growl like a Malamute.

The award has several times been divided between an older writer being recognised for a substantial body of work and a younger one who's just blazed onto the scene. A very good idea for a literary prize.

Junot Diaz and I shared it this year. I was scared of Junot before we met because so many trendy people had praised his book and I thought he was going to be trendy, but no, he was terrific. It was a joy to get to know him and his book Drown is a joy too. We have not yet decided which of us is the Mala and which one is the Mud.

Posted by ronn at September 22, 2003 08:36 PM