University of Pittsburgh Press

Drue Heinz Literature Prize

Ed Ochester

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American Standard

by John Blair

Winner of the 2002 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. It is difficult to see what lurks beneath the surface of a muddy river, an alligator-infested lake, or a John Blair short story. The deep currents that drive a demure, devout, church-going woman to shoot her husband; the ripple effect of a midnight rendezvous at church youth camp that goes slightly—then horribly—askew; the sinkholes that can swallow Porsche dealerships—or marriages; what is dredged up in American Standard cannot easily be forgotten. Set mostly in central Florida, Blair’s stories are filled with people living lives of disquieting longing and stubborn isolation. For them, this is the American standard, as ubiquitous and undistinguished as vitreous china bathroom fixtures.

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Bring Your Legs With You

by Darrell Spencer

A boxer who brings his legs with him comes to the ring with the strength and stamina to make it through every round of a tough fight. Darrell Spencer delivers fiction with just that kind of power. Bring Your Legs with You contains nine interconnected stories set in Las Vegas. Featuring various perspectives and narrators, they are filled with unforgettable characters, including Carl T. Plugg, a sharp-dressed, smooth-talking, non-hustling pool shark; Spinoza, the philosophical day laborer with “Department of Big Thoughts” lettered on the door of his pickup; Jacob, an arrogant lawyer who learns too late the dangers of swimming with the sharks; Gus, a man who has never seen his son fight despite his insatiable fascination with the sweet science; and Jane, a woman wary of her ex-husband, but still in love enough to share her bed with him. Above them all looms Tommy Rooke, retired prizefighter and self-employed roofer. Undefeated in the ring, Rooke walked away from boxing at the top of his game, to the confusion and consternation of his friends and family. As his father, former manager, and various other hangers-on encourage him to stage a comeback, Tommy moves through the gated communities and sun-blasted strip malls of Las Vegas, wrestling with personal choice, the caprices of fate, and the price the gods demand for our sins.

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Dangerous Men

by Geoffrey Becker

Winner of the 1995 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. In these tightly drafted stories, Becker creates a wide variety of distinct voices, peculiar characters, and odd settings, with tantalizing emphasis on lonlieness, loss, and the ever-present struggle to find one’s place in the world. “It was wrong to think that our presence would linger on, though it was to this notion that I realized I’d been grasping all along,” the music-student narrator of “Dangerous Men” says after an evening involving drugs, a fight, and a car accident, “the idea that in some way we were etching ourselves onto the air, leaving shadows that would remain forever.”

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Departures

by Jennifer C. Cornell

Winner of the 1994 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. The stories in this extraordinary collection are set in Northern Ireland, specifically Belfast, the center for more than thirty years of fighting between Roman Catholic nationalists and Protestants loyal to the British crown. Cornell is not preoccupied, however, with the details of the war. Her stories explore the emotional and psychological consequences of the struggle to endure not only violence, but loss, failure, and the inability to believe.

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Destination Known

by Brett Ellen Block

Winner of the 2001 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. The characters in Brett Ellen Block’s debut collection of short stories may know their destinations, but they don’t always rush to them. From a runaway on an ice cream truck to a down-and-out retiree in a porn shop, they struggle to face both their pasts and their futures. In a series of tightly focused and deftly drawn vignettes, Block explores the detours, potholes, and speed bumps along the road of life. These are stories about people at loose ends in their lives, coming to the realization that they can’t always sit back and enjoy the ride. Whether they’re committing petty larceny, moping their way through the winding streets and canals of Venice, or seeking to escape North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Block’s characters are learning to get behind the wheel and take control.

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Fado and Other Stories

by Katherine Vaz

Winner of the 1997 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. This collection is filled with narrative and character grounded in the meaning and value the earth gives to human existence. In one story, a woman sleeps with the village priest, trying to gain back the land the church took from her family; in another, relatives in the Azores fight over a plot of land owned by their expatriate American cousin. Even apparently small images are cast in terms of the earth: Milton, one narrator explains, has made apples the object of a misunderstanding by naming them as Eden’s fruit: “In the Bible, no fruit is named in the Garden of Eden - and to this day apples are misunderstood. They were trying to tempt people not into sin but into listening to the earth more closely. . . . their white meal runs wet with the knowledge of the language of the land, but people do not listen.” Vaz’s beautiful, intensely conscious language often delicately slips her stories into the realm of the fado, the Portuguese song about fate and longing. “Listen for the nightingale that presses its breast against the thorns of the rose,” on character sings, “that the song might be more beautiful.” Such a verse might describe Vaz’s own motive behind her willingness to confront her subject’s ambiguities and her characters’ conflicts - the simultaneous joy and sorrow of some of life’s discoveries, the pain sometimes hidden within passion and pleasure.

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In the Gathering Woods

by Adria Bernardi

2000 Drue Heinz Literature Prize Winner. In the Gathering Woods, contains a cast of characters who hail from the same Italian ancestors, but whose stories come at us unbounded by time and space. The book opens early in the twentieth century, with a narrator’s boyhood recollections of gathering mushrooms with his grandfather—a narrator who seems still haunted by a terrifying local legend that tormented him as a boy. We skip backward to a young shepherd-artist in the Apennine mountains in the 1500s, who yearns to be discovered, as Giotto was. Later, a preverbal baby accumulates bits of the conversation carried on by adults at the table above her head; a neurologist from Chicago returns to the Apennines to deposit shards of glass at a grave. Whether they speak in the lost dialect of an immigrant, of infancy, or of an adolescent girl’s school lessons, these stories call up fragments of language in a struggle to understand and attempt to console through the act of reassembling. The language of these stories is both lyrical and comic, providing insight through the details of Bernardi’s writing.

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The Man Who Loved Levittown

by W. D. Wetherell

This book is characterized by narrative vitality and emotional range. In Wetherell’s stories a suburban retiree’s assumptions about the ethos of Long Island life are challenged and dismissed by a younger generation, a young English woman achieves miracles by dancing with wounded soldiers during World War II, a tennis-mad bachelor plays an interior game as real to him as an actual match, and a black drifter converts an Asian couple to his bleak vision of American life and finds strange kinship with them.

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Necessary Fictions

by Barbara Croft

Selected as the 1998 Drue Heinz Literature Prize Award winner, and winner of the Midland Society of Authors Award for Adult Fiction, 1999. Storytelling and art are major themes of this collection. The stories center on the need for expression, the pain of failing in artistic expression, and the ways in which we construct imaginative representations of our lives, the "necessary fictions" that allow us to live. At the heart of the book is a series of three interconnected stories and a novella concerning Raymond Gerhardt and his family. Ray is a carpenter, a World War II veteran, obsessed with building the perfect home for his family. When he dies, a possible suicide, his wife and children are left to sort out the meaning of his life and their own.

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The Necessity of Certain Behaviors

Shannon Cain

Told in precise, evocative prose that skewers the heart of the matter time after time, these memorable stories view and illuminate the human condition from a compelling, funny and entirely original perspective.

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