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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Author Elizabeth McCracken won the annual Story Prize for short fiction on Wednesday for "Thunderstruck and Other Stories," her collection of tales about life-altering experiences and loss.
McCracken, a National Book Award finalist for her novel "The Giant's House," will receive a $20,000 prize for her critically acclaimed book of nine stories.
The 48-year-old former public librarian, who is a faculty member at the University of Texas, Austin, was awarded the prize at an evening ceremony at The New School, a university in New York's Greenwich Village.
"Each story in the collection reads like a masterwork, rich and confident and surprising, and together they form an electrifying whole," the judges said.
"She writes with such an open and compassionate heart that even the most damaged and lost of her characters thrum with life," they added in a statement.
"Thunderstruck and Other Stories" is McCracken's second short story collection. "Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry," was published in 1993. She has also written two novels and a memoir.
Larry Dark, the director of The Story Prize, said when the award was established in 2004 there was little interest and demand for collections of short fiction.
"In the 11 years we have been doing this that has really turned around and it has become a popular form again that a lot of writers are interested in pursuing," he said in an interview.
The number of entrants for the prize has doubled since it was established. McCracken's collection was selected from a record 129 books submitted by publishers or authors for works written in English in 2014. The Dial Press, an imprint of Bertelsmann-owned Dell Publishing, published her book.
The other finalists, who each will receive $5,000, were Rome-based author Francesca Marciano for "The Other Language" and Lorrie Moore for "Bark."
Writer Laura van den Berg, Noreen Tomassi, the director of The Center for Fiction in New York, and Colorado bookseller Arsen Kashkashian were the judges.
Past winners of annual prize that is underwritten by the Mississippi-based Chisholm Foundation include George Saunders, Steven Millhauser, Mary Gordon and Jim Shepard.
Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Cynthia Osterman