Author Paul Yoon won the 20th annual Story Prize for his latest short story collection, The Hive and the Honey (Marysue Rucci/S&S), at a ceremony held March 26 at the Lotos Club in New York City. The award comes with a $20,000 top prize, with $5,000 awarded to two finalists, and is sponsored by the Chisholm Foundation.

This year's finalists were Yiyun Li, for Wednesday’s Child (FSG), and Bennett Sims, for Other Minds and Other Stories (Two Dollar Radio). The three finalists were selected by Story Prize director Larry Dark and founder Julie Lindsey from 113 submissions, and three independent judges—critic and writer Merve Emre, librarian Allison Escoto, and writer Tania James—selected the winner.

The Hive and The Honey is a collection of astonishing breadth, offering a panoramic portrait of Korean diaspora, of lives rescued from the margins of history. These characters reveal themselves most acutely through intimate gestures, moments that infuse the ordinary with lasting wonder and could only be achieved by a writer as patient, curious, and masterful as Paul Yoon,” the judges wrote in their citation. “The genius of the collection lies in its steadiness of style—Yoon's prose is quiet and fine and, at times, painfully precise—and its variety of genre. Domestic realism sits alongside folk tales, ghost stories, and imperial histories. The present is haunted by the past, and the past is violently and beautifully summoned in the present.”

The Hive and the Honey is Yoon’s fifth book of fiction and his third short story collection. In its review, PW called The Hive and the Honey "a lean collection of stories featuring restless, complex characters driven by their need for connection and forgiveness" and "an elegant exploration of life’s brutal and beautiful moments."

This year was the third time the Story Prize has been held as a private ceremony at the Lotos Club, after launching at Symphony Space in 2004 and running at the New School for the following 16 years. (In 2021, the ceremony was held remotely due to Covid restrictions.) Giving some of the history of the prize, Dark noted that one reason the Story Prize stands out was the decision that "the judges would not all be fiction writers; instead, we would include a bookseller or librarian, critics, book bloggers, academics, literary magazine editors, and others alongside writer judges each year." Recently, he added, "other book awards have adopted a similar approach." Twenty years in, it remains among the most significant monetary prizes in American fiction.

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In an emotional acceptance speech, Yoon generously thanked Dark for being “a champion and the number one boss of the short story for decades,” and added: to Yiyun and Bennett, that "to be here with you both is such a gift. Yiyun, it's impossible to truly express how much we look up to you, and love you so much. Thank you for your genius and kindness.” (Li blurbed both Yoon’s and Sims’s nominated books.)

Yoon noted that the Oxford shirt he wore during the ceremony was in tribute to his first boss in the publishing business, the late Russell Perrault of Vintage Books, who introduced him to the stories of such authors as Ann Beatty, Richard Gates, and Alice Munro. "He'd let me take whatever stories I wanted" from the Vintage backlist library, Yoon said, "and then he'd sneak me up the back stairs, where we'd enter the contrails of Sonny Mehta's beautiful cigarette smoke—it's like we'd enter some upper level of heaven—and this is where I was covertly introduced to the old Pantheon paperbacks," including works by such writers as Thomas Bernhard, Julio Cortázar, and John Berger.

"I really believe I'm where I am today, as an artist in whatever style or creative vision I've devoted myself to, in part because Russell opened the doors to these incredible libraries," Yoon said, "and gave me access to both the North American writers and the writers from all over the world."

Asked, in conversation with Dark, how he arrives at his spare style of prose, Yoon admitted, "I don't know if I'm aware of it. That's my honest answer. Yiyun [Li] was talking about she learned from [author William] Trevor. I for sure learned from Trevor too, and maybe his minimalistic quality rubbed off on me in some way."

In response to Dark's question about his books varied geographies—Spain, Russia, Korea—Yoon said, "I was very far from home during lockdown, so one way to make myself feel better was, I would imagine a map of where all the people that I love are. That got me thinking about, where are these family members I've never met? Where are they, where were they? That became the canvas."