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Callahan's 'Consummation of Dirk' wins Starcherone Prize

Starcherone Books, the Buffalo-based publisher of innovative prose fiction founded by writer/editor Ted Pelton that earlier this year became an editorially-independent imprint of Ann Arbor, Michigan based Dzanc Books, has announced the results of its eighth annual Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction.

The winner is "The Consummation of Dirk," a collection of short stories by Jonathan Callahan, a Hawaii native currently living in Fukuoka, Japan. He will receive a $1,500 cash award and publication of his manuscript in Starcherone Books’ 2012-13 season.  

The manuscript was selected from among five finalists by Zachary Mason, author of "The Lost Books of The Odyssey," the critically acclaimed novel that was the winner of the fourth annual Starcherone Prize in 2006-07. Mason's novel was later republished in a slightly altered form by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010, and subsequently was selected as one of The New York Times' Notable Books of last year.

In the prize announcement for "The Consummation of Dirk," Pelton notes that a total of 232 manuscripts were submitted for consideration for this year's Starcherone Prize and observes; "Callahan's collection represents an exceptional level of accomplishment for a debut author, mixing styles, humor, and various international identities and locales, as well as highly wrought representations of misery." Callahan has reportedly told friends that the initial working title for the collection was "The Book of Pain." 

“The stories in this collection have the texture of the long bad nights that one keeps to oneself and is prone to think no one else experienced. The gifted child contemplating murder, the husband drowning in melancholy, the pro basketball athlete finding his road to Damascus all emerge from adept torrents of words that bear comparison with Virginia Woolf and David Foster Wallace,” wrote Mason in his award decision.

Individual stories from the collection have appeared or are forthcoming in literary magazines and journals including The Collagist, Kill Author, The Lifted Brow, Pank, Underwater New York, Unsaid, and Washington Square Review. The title story of the book, a mini-novella that first appeared in The Collagist, revolves around the persona of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, and takes a form described by Callahan as "Nowtizki doing various Nowitzkian things" while two other Nowitzkian-obsessed central characters -- a brother and sister -- work through some serious problems in their own lives. Owing to the improbable run of the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA championship (in which Nowitzki was named Most Valuable Player of the Championship Series) this past June, and the Gawker Media sports website both did recent features on Callahan's Nowitzkian-inspired novella.

Callahan, who grew up in Honolulu, studied fiction writing and literature at Sarah Lawrence College, and taught writing at SUNY at Purchase, has also published non-fiction and critical writings including an essay on Kafka, Thomas Bernhard, and David Foster Wallace for The Collagist, and essays on Rick Moody and Adam Novy in The Fiction Writers Review. He lives with his wife in Fukuoka, Japan's seventh largest city located on the northern shore of the island of Kyushu, where he teaches English.

Though not specifically promoted or judged as a first-book competition, Callahan's win marks the eighth consecutive time (out of eight times the competition has been held) that a debut book of fiction has been selected for the award. In addition to Zachary Mason's breakout novel, other notable past winners of the Starcherone Prize include Sara Greenslit's "The Blue of Her Body" (2005-06) and Alissa Nutting’s "Unclean Jobs for Woman and Girls" (2009-10).

Earlier this summer, Starcherone also garnered national attention for its publication of  "30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Younger Writers" edited by Blake Butler and Lily Hoang.

--R.D. Pohl

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