Author Mueenuddin wins Story Prize for short fiction

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Writer Daniyal Mueenuddin won the Story Prize for short fiction on Wednesday for “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders,” a compendium of eight interconnected short stories set in the 1980s amid feudal lands in southern Pakistan.

Mueenuddin, a former lawyer who lives in London and Punjab, thanked his agent and his recently deceased mother after being presented the sixth annual award, which includes a $20,000 prize.

“She was the person who, when I was little, made me think that being a writer was a legitimate thing to do,” Mueenuddin said. “She was behind me all the way.”

By contrast, the people on the farm in Punjab where he lives part of the year seem “slightly embarrassed” by his work, thinking “it’s certainly nothing to be proud of.”

The winning collection, published by W.W. Norton, boasts a cast of characters from an aging feudal landlord and his Western-educated daughters to desperate servants and farm workers, corrupt judges and assorted aristocrats.

A self-described romantic, Mueenuddin noted after reading from his story “Saleema” that “I’ve been accused of being too dark” in his writing.

Despite the far-flung setting, Mueenuddin said his themes, such as wealth, power and food, are relatively universal.

“The same range of emotions” prevail whether in Pakistan or America, he said. “But in Pakistan, there is such desperation people have to jockey harder.” As a result, he said, “Pakistan is an incredibly political place.”

The other two finalists were California-based Victoria Patterson, nominated for “Drift,” and Wells Tower, for “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” Each won $5,000.

Patterson’s work explores the grittier underside of Newport Beach in Orange County, California, often stereotyped as a bastion of bleached blond hair, conservative leanings and plastic surgery.

Tower’s offbeat stories are inflected with black humour and feature characters as diverse as carnival workers, clueless husbands and rampaging Vikings.