by Page Forrest
Kevin Wilson is already a big deal at Sewanee. He’s one of the most beloved English professors on campus, and his critically-acclaimed novel, The Family Fang, is being adapted into a movie starring Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman. So it came as no surprise to most everyone at Sewanee that Professor Wilson’s short story, “Sanders For a Night,” was long-listed for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. In fact, the only one surprised was Wilson himself.
“When I wrote the story, my hope was that a magazine would publish it. But it always got turned down. It was one of the stories I always felt really good about, but could never find the right place for,” Wilson says about his story, which he wrote seven years ago. When Wilson found out that the contest was asking for unpublished short stories, he knew it was the right place for his story. Sure enough, on February 2, the long list for the award was announced, and “Sanders For a Night” was one of 16 stories to be honored. When he found out, the Sewanee professor was definitely excited. “It’s certainly a bigger honor than being published in a journal,” Wilson states. Later this semester, the long list will be narrowed down to a short list of four. After that, the stories will go to England, where the final results will be decided.
Wilson started writing in high school, but he admits he didn’t really know what he was doing then. When he got to college, he started taking workshops, which motivated to him to double down on his efforts, and write more seriously. Most students who try their hand at writing will usually immediately try to go for the full-length novel. But Wilson insisted that for a student, short stories are the best way to practice. He says “Short stories have very magical properties. They’re very short in span, but can have the same emotional resonance as a novel.” He cites his own favorite short story as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Like most of the students here currently, Wilson read the story when he was young, in sixth or seventh grade. Unlike most of us, however, he was not bored by it, nor did he resent the story because it was assigned to him by a teacher. Instead, Wilson says “I took to it immediately. It opened me to perceiving the world in new ways.”
It’s certainly a good thing Wilson took to short stories back in junior high. Otherwise, “Sanders For a Night” might not be a reality today. The EFG Short Story award is not only incredibly prestigious, but also the most financially rewarding. The prize money for winning the award is £30,000, the largest sum awarded for any short story competition. Authors such as Junot Diaz and C K Stead have won in the past.
Of course, one must wonder if the prestige of the long list alone will be enough to make publishers regret never publishing Wilson’s story, and whether or not they’ll change their minds after the competition. “I really hope so.” Wilson says. “That’s what you want with stories, you want people to read it. That’s why I hope the wider publicity will get the story out there.”