* Saunders sees prize as a plus for short story form
* Thanks monkeys who made him sick for forcing him to write
* Hopes prize raises profile for writers in society
(Adds author's comments, rejigs)
By Michael Roddy
LONDON, March 10 U.S. author George Saunders,
whose short stories specialise in "darkly playful" twists of
fate, said after winning the inaugural Folio literary prize
worth 40,000 pounds ($66,500) on Monday he hoped it would draw
attention to the role of the writer in society.
Saunders, 55, also saw the award as a further boost for the
short story form, another of whose practitioners, the Canadian
writer Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature last
"It seems like a nice moment for it but I've been doing
(short) stories since the '70s. It's sort of like in the women's
magazines when they say red is back. You think, 'Well, when was
it gone?' But it does seem like a good time for short stories."
Saunders, who started out as a geophysicist and worked in
the oil fields of Sumatra before turning to writing, was
selected from a shortlist of eight authors for the new prize
sponsored by the Folio Society publisher of deluxe books.
At an awards ceremony in London, Saunders said he had to
give up his oil exploration work and took up writing in part
because when he was swimming in a river a colony of some 300
monkeys on a pipeline were defecating into the water.
"I thought, 'Oh, God, I wonder if that's okay' and it wasn't
and I got really sick and that's really where the writing
started because I got so sick I had to quit the job and went
home...So I thank the monkeys tonight," he said.
Saunders said he hoped the award would raise the level of
awareness of the importance of writers in public life,
particularly in America where he said the cash prize would
"I imagine the literary project as being a little bit of a
leaky boat these days - you see in the States a writer can't get
on TV," Saunders said.
"When 9/11 happened, nobody was asking writers what they
thought and I thought it was a real problem....
"So what a prize does is maybe in just the most crass way it
calls the culture's attention to this activity that's been a
The award's sponsors said it is intended to recognise "the
best English-language fiction from around the world" that has
been published in Britain, regardless of form, genre or the
"George Saunders's stories are both artful and profound,"
English novelist and poet Lavinia Greenlaw, the chair of the
judges, said in a statement announcing the prize winner.
"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."
TEXAS AS A BOILING POT
The Texas-born Saunders, who was a recipient of the $500,000
MacArthur Fellowship, sometimes called "the genius grant", in
2006, is a professor of creative writing at Syracuse University
in New York.
He said that Texas where he spent his childhood had provided
a rich background for his fiction.
"Texas is actually sort of a great boiling pot - everything
is there," he said.
Saunders has written several collections of short fiction,
including "Tenth of December" (Bloomsbury), a New York Times
bestseller, as well as popular children's books.
"No one writes more powerfully than George Saunders about
the lost, the unlucky, the disenfranchised, those Americans who
struggle to pay the bills, make the rent, hold onto a job they
might detest - folks who find their dreams slipping from their
grasp as they frantically tread water, trying to keep from
drowning," Michiko Kakutani wrote in a review of "Tenth of
December" in The New York Times in January, 2013.
The other 2014 shortlisted titles were:
"Red Doc" by Anne Carson (Random House/Jonathan Cape)
"Schroder" by Amity Gaige (Faber & Faber)
"Last Friends" by Jane Gardam (Little, Brown)
"Benediction" by Kent Haruf (Picador)
"The Flame Throwers" by Rachel Kushner (Random House/Harvill
"A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing" by Eimear McBride (Galley
"A Naked Singularity" by Sergio De La Pava (Maclehose
($1 = 0.6013 British pounds)
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)