Claire Vaye Watkins wins national prize for work of short fiction

Claire Vaye Watkins Wins Story Prize for Short Fiction

Kerong Kelly

Contributing Writer

Claire Vaye Watkins, assistant professor of English, won The Story Prize of 2012 for her short fiction piece titled “Battleborn.” This piece is comprised of 10 stories, covering a variety of backgrounds and characters and combining historical context with the contemporary West.

From the California Gold Rush of 1849 to the set that was once home to the Manson Family (a quasi-commune established in California in the late 1960s), Watkins covers a broad scope of events in her writing. In addition to being the first woman to win this award since Mary Gordon, author of “The Stories of Mary Gordon” in 2007, Watkins is also the third debuting author to win.

The Story Prize, established in 2004, annually honors a short fiction collection. The $20,000 award is the largest first-prize amount of all annual U.S. book awards for fiction. At the award ceremony, held at The New School in New York City, the 2012 finalists read from and discussed their collections with Larry Dark, director of The Story Prize.

During her teenage years, Watkins spent a significant amount of time in Las Vegas and in other more remote areas of Nevada. Her father, Paul Watkins, a former member of the Manson Family and author of “My Life with Charles Manson” (1979), testified against Charles Manson, a criminal and leader. Later on, Watkins earned her MFA from Ohio State University. She then received fellowships from the Writers’ Conferences at Sewanee and Bread Loaf.

Watkins currently teaches courses on fiction and creative writing at the University.

“Professor Watkins has taught me that even though there are guidelines in writing, creating art is a personal matter and you should definitely follow your passion as an individual to ensure the uniqueness of your work,” Sara Chuirazzi ’16 said. “She’s taught me important elements of craft, such as how to establish setting, create round characters and utilize scene, but most importantly she’s taught me how to recognize my strengths as a writer while also viewing my own work with a critical eye.”

Watkins provided advice to aspiring writers.

“First, read like a fiend. Read everything you can without regard for genre or canon. Pay attention to what moves you and how it does it. Keep a notebook and use it to train your ear, to get a feel for words you like, phrases that stick with you, stories that haunt you. Most importantly, cultivate your inner curiosity and vulnerability. Keep your eyes and ears open to the world around you,” she said.

“Her workshop style is much different from what I’ve experienced with other professors. She helps me not be a reader or critic, but an asset to the ambition of the story that I am editing. If there is anything that I appreciate, it is her willingness to develop an author’s story on the story’s terms, not her own,” Leo Tonaki ’13 said.

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