Hailed by NPR reviewer Alan Cheuse as "one of the most prestigious series in university press publishing," the University of Georgia's Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction program turns 20 this year. In addition to the publication of Gina Ochsner's The Necessary Grace to Fall (Mar.) and Kellie Well's Compression Scars (Oct.), the anniversary will be celebrated at BEA with a giveaway poster and a daily raffle for signed collections by Mary Hood and Ha Jin, each of whose careers were jump-started when they received the award.
The anniversary is also marked by the retirement of founding series editor Charles East. A tribute to him in Georgia's spring and summer catalogue includes praise from five previous award recipients, including Jin, who left his native China in 1985 and now teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. "Charles East showed me that with care and patience... [I] could produce a fine and polished manuscript," noted Jin, who was the 1996 winner for Under the Red Flag, before going on to win a National Book Award for Waiting (Pantheon/Vintage). "For a writer in my situation, that meant more than encouragement. It meant I could survive, I could write on my own."
A published author of short stories (Distant Friends and Intimate Strangers; Illinois) and a former LSU Press director, East credits the series' creation to Paul Zimmer, Georgia's director in 1980, when East was brought on board as editor-in-chief. It was Zimmer's idea to name the award for a Georgian renowned for her short fiction, he said. The two men worked closely on the series' development, deciding together to add two collections per year (and occasionally more). Their early fear that the series would be stereotyped as regional disappeared when submissions began arriving from all over the nation. Sub-rights sales have also been brisk: Georgia's initial hardcovers are usually followed by commercially published trade paperbacks.
East attributes the series' success in part to its outside judges, a lineup that over the years has included such literary luminaries as Raymond Carver, Guy Davenport and George Garrett. From the finalists the judges selected, East not only picked the winners but helped shape their manuscripts for publication. "Charles has been so totally involved in the series that he will be very difficult to replace," current director Nicole Mitchell told PW. So difficult, it seems, that she will take a year to search for his successor.