Entertainment & Arts

Folio Prize: George Saunders wins with short story collection

George Saunders Image copyright Robin mayes
Image caption The Sunday Times described George Saunders' Tenth of December as "dazzlingly surreal stories about a failing America".

American writer George Saunders has won the inaugural Folio Prize for his "darkly playful" short story collection, Tenth of December.

The new prize, open to English-language writers from around the world, pre-empts the Man Booker Prize, which this year expands to a global level.

Saunders picked up his £40,000 cheque at a ceremony in central London on Monday night.

The eight-strong shortlist had been dominated by American authors.

"George Saunders' stories are both artful and profound," said chair of the judges, Lavinia Greenlaw.

"Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them. His subject is the human self under ordinary and extraordinary pressure.

"His worlds are heightened versions of our own, full of inexorable confrontations from which we are not easily released. Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment. We have no doubt that these stories will prove only more essential in years to come."

Joining Greenlaw on the judging panel were Michael Chabon, Sarah Hall, Nam Le and Pankaj Mishra.

Andrew Kidd, founder of The Folio Prize, described Saunders as "one of the great writers of our age" and "one of the undisputed masters of his form".

He said: "It's a brilliant choice which boldly affirms the aims of the prize: to celebrate the most perfectly realised and thrilling storytelling of our time."

Also on the Folio Prize shortlist were Red Doc> by Anne Carson, Schroder by Amity Gaige, Last Friends by Jane Gardam, Benediction by Kent Haruf and The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner.

The list was completed by A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride and A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava.

Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas, grew up in Chicago and has a degree in exploration geophysics.

Having worked in Sumatra oil fields as a field geophysicist, he says he "came home to try and be Kerouac II".

Saunders' works include the story collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation. His is also the author of a best-selling children's book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, and a book of essays entitled The Brain-Dead Megaphone.

Tenth of December, a New York Times bestseller, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award and also won this year's Story Prize.

The author, who teaches creative writing at Syracuse University in New York, was named in Time magazine's 2013 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

"Saunders is one of the mercurial masters of the short story that Britain's disinterest in short-form fiction has prevented us from championing," commented Jonathan Ruppin, web editor at Foyles.

"These stories are satire as its most brutal, fiercely funny but also bitter about a dystopian future that already seems to be coming to pass. He's a deserved recipient, up there with Vonnegut".

Formerly known as the Literature Prize, the Folio Prize was first announced in 2011 amidst a row in literary circles over the decision by that year's Man Booker judges to focus on "readability".

The Folio Prize joins a literary awards landscape that already contains the £50,000 Man Booker, the £30,000 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and the new £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize.

In September last year it was announced the Man Booker Prize - which had only considered works from the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe - would open up to authors around the world in 2014.

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