George Saunders wins inaugural Folio Prize, dubbed the 'Booker without the bow ties', with latest short story collection

 

Arts Correspondent

An American short story writer whom Zadie Smith once described as having “intimidating talent” has won the heavyweight new literary award set up to compete with the Man Booker Prize.

George Saunders, a professor of creative writing at Syracuse University in the US, was last night named the inaugural winner of The Folio Prize, dubbed the “Booker without the bow ties”.

He picked up the award, and a cheque for £40,000, for his collection of short stories Tenth of December at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Mr Saunders said: "It's really surprising. I wasn't expecting it so it's wonderful."

Chair of the judges Lavinia Greenlaw called Saunders’ stories “artful and profound”. “Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time. The author, who lives in New York, was named on Time’s list of 100 most influential people in the world in 2013. The magazine described him as “the best short story writer in English”.

George Saunders won for his collection of short stories, Tenth of December George Saunders won for his collection of short stories, Tenth of December

After short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mr Saunders said it did feel like a "nice moment" for the form. He added that American fiction "is vigorous right now".

Mr Saunders was at one point a geophysical engineer and he said that the rigour of that work had informed his writing was "very helpful".

He worked in the oilfields of Sumatra but was writing on the side and "all the time knew I just wasn't that good at the day job". He quit the job at the age of 23 after he got sick from swimming in a river in Denver. "I looked up and there were 300 monkeys on a pipeline shitting into the water. I wondered if it was okay and it wasn't. So I can thank the monkeys."

The bookies had made him one of the outsiders before the ceremony with Anne Carson installed as favourite for her book Red Doc>.

Read more: Tenth of December review: 'a brilliant, trenchant and hilarious collection'
Interview: One minute with George Saunders

Jonathan Ruppin, web editor at Foyles bookshops, described Saunders as “up there with [Slaughterhouse 5 writer Kurt] Vonnegut,” saying the stories were “satire at its most brutal, fiercely funny but also bitter”.

Other authors in the running were Rachel Kushner for The Flamethrowers, and Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. McBride and Jane Gardam were the only UK based authors to make the shortlist.

The Folio Prize is open to any author writing in English whose book is published in the UK during a given year, regardless of the form. This year included novels, short story collections and work in verse.

The move to set up a prize is believed to have prompted the Booker to open up to non-commonwealth and Irish authors for the first time later this year.

Mr Saunders said literary prizes were very useful for drawing attention to books adding winning The Folio Prize "will be a talking point for sure".

This week Hanif Kureishi, author of The Buddha of Suburbia, criticised creative writing courses but Mr Saunders responded: "There are bad courses like there are bad soccer teams and bad pubs but if a programme is thinking about itself it should identify those problems.”

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high