Steven Millhauser Wins 2011 Story Prize for 'We Others'
On March 21st, Steven Millhauser was awarded the 2011 Story Prize for his book, WE OTHERS: New and Selected Stories, which was published last August by Knopf. The presentation was held at the New School in New York. Don DeLillo and Edith Pearlman were the other two finalists.
Established in 2004, The Story Prize honors the author of an outstanding collection of short fiction. It carries a $20,000 cash prize.
At the event, the three authors read from and discussed their story collections, and the winner was announced immediately after. For his selection, Millhauser read the story “Snowmen;” the beginning of it appears below.
. . . . .
From WE OTHERS by Steven Millhauser
One sunny morning I woke and pushed aside a corner of the blinds.
Above the frosted, sun- dazzled bottom of the glass I saw a brilliant blue
sky, divided into luminous rectangles by the orderly white strips of wood
in my window. Down below, the backyard had vanished. In its place was
a dazzling white sea, whose lifted and immobile waves would surely have
toppled if I had not looked at them just then. It had happened secretly,
in the night. It had snowed with such abandon, such fervor, such furious
delight, that I could not understand how that wildness of snowing had
failed to wake me with its white roar. The topmost twigs of the tall backyard
hedge poked through the whiteness, but here and there a great drift
covered them. The silver chains of the bright yellow swing- frame
plunged into snow. Snow rose high above the floor of the old chicken
coop at the back of the garage, and snow on the chicken- coop roof swept
up to the top of the garage gable. In the corner of the white yard the
tilted clothespole rose out of the snow like the mast of a sinking ship. A
reckless snow- wave, having dashed against the side of the pole, flung up
a line of frozen spray, as if straining to pull it all under. From the flat roof
of the chicken coop hung a row of thick icicles, some in sun and some in
shade. They reminded me of glossy and matte prints in my father’s
albums. Under the sunny icicles were dark holes in the snow where the
water dripped. Suddenly I remembered a rusty rake- head lying teeth
down in the dirt of the vegetable garden. It seemed more completely
buried than ships under the sea, or the quartz and flint arrowheads that
were said to lie under the dark loam of the garden, too far down for me
to ever find them, forever out of reach.
I hurried downstairs, shocked to discover that I was expected to eat
breakfast on such a morning. In the sunny yellow kitchen I dreamed of
dark tunnels in the snow. There was no exit from the house that day
except by way of the front door. A thin, dark, wetly gleaming trail led
between high snowbanks to the two cement steps before the buried
sidewalk, where it stopped abruptly, as if in sudden discouragement.
Jagged hills of snow thrown up by the snowplow rose higher than my
head. I climbed over the broken slabs and reached the freedom of the
street. Joey Czukowski and Mario Salvio were already there. They
seemed struck with wonder. Earmuffs up and cap peaks pulled low, they
both held snowballs in their hands, as if they did not know what to do
with them. Together we roamed the neighborhood in search of Jimmy
Shaw. Here and there great gaps appeared in the snow ranges, revealing
a plowed driveway and a vista of snowy yard. At the side of Mario’s house
a sparkling drift swept up to the windowsill. A patch of bright green
grass, in a valley between drifts, startled us as if waves had parted and we
were looking at the bottom of the sea. High above, white and black
against the summer- blue sky, the telephone wires were heaped with
snow. Heavy snow- lumps fell thudding. We found Jimmy Shaw banging
a stick against a snow- covered stop sign on Collins Street. Pagliaro’s lot
disturbed us: in summer we fought there with ash- can covers, sticks, and
rusty cans, and now its dips and rises, its ripples and contours, which we
knew as intimately as we knew our cellar floors, had been transformed
into a mysterious new pattern of humps and hollows, an unknown realm
reminding us of the vanished lot only by the distorted swelling of its central
Dizzy with discovery, we spent that morning wandering the newly
invented streets of more alien neighborhoods. From a roof gutter hung a
glistening four- foot icicle, thick as a leg. Now and then we made snowballs,
and feebly threw ourselves into the conventional postures of a
snowball fight, but our hearts were not really in it—they had surrendered
utterly to the inventions of the snow. There was about our snow a
lavishness, an ardor, that made us restless, exhilarated, and a little
uneasy, as if we had somehow failed to measure up to that white extravagance.
It was not until the afternoon that the first snowmen appeared. There
may have been some in the morning, but I did not see them, or perhaps
they were only the usual kind and remained lost among the enchantments
of the snow. But that afternoon we began to notice them, in the
shallower places of front and backyards. And we accepted them at once,
indeed were soothed by them, as if only they could have been the offspring
of such snow. They were not commonplace snowmen composed
of three big snowballs piled one on top of the other, with carrots for
noses and big black buttons or smooth round stones for eyes. No, they
were passionately detailed men and women and children of snow, with
noses and mouths and chins of snow. They wore hats of snow and coats
of snow. Their shoes of snow were tied with snow laces. One snowgirl in
a summer dress of snow and a straw hat of snow stood holding a delicate
snow parasol over one shoulder….
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