In July of 1996 Michael Rea died of a heart attack at his country home in Washington, Connecticut. In the obituary published in The New York Times on 3 August (“Michael M. Rea, 69, A Collector of Art and First Editions,” by Lawrence Van Gelder) we learned a little more about his life: that he had joined the U.S. Marine Corps at seventeen and served in North China at the end of World War II; that he was a collector of American paintings and sculpture and served as a trustee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach; and that through his publishing company, Sweetwater Editions, he published many books, including an edition of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Satan In Goray with engravings by Ira Moskowitz and Early Stone Sculpture, a book about New England tombstone art. Rea also edited an anthology, The American Short Story: Stories from the Rea Award (Ecco Press, 1994). This book consists of twenty-one stories by Rea Award winners and nominees selected by seven Rea Award jurors….
After his death, it was announced that, under the guidance of his widow, Elizabeth Richbourg Rea, the Rea Award will continue, as will other activities of the Dungannon Foundation, which include support for writers-in-residence at various colleges and universities. Dedicating the 1997 Rea Award, the first following his death, as a tribute to Michael Rea, Mrs. Rea selected a special jury composed of three previous winners of the award – Cynthia Ozick, Tobias Wolff, and Andre Dubus.
The jury offered the following citation:
IN MEMORIAM: MICHAEL M. REA
The 1997 Rea Award for the Short Story stands as a superlative tribute and memorial to its founder, Michael M. Rea, and continues as his splendid legacy. In honoring the American short story, and in establishing a significant award for its most distinguished contemporary representatives, Michael Rea sought to celebrate a consummate art with consummately generous devotion. Constituting the highest form of national recognition accorded exclusively to the short story, the Rea Award embodies its creator’s passionate homage to literary achievement.
The jury selected Gina Berriault (1926-1999), a native Californian of Russian Jewish immigrant parents. She is the author of four novels and three collections of short stories, including, most recently Women in Their Beds: New and Selected Stories (Counterpoint), a book that in 1996 also won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Bay Area Reviewers Award. Her stories have won several O. Henry prizes and have appeared in such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Mademoiselle, Paris Review, The Threepenny Review, and Ploughshares.
The recent recognition given to Gina Berriault was of special significance in bringing her to the awareness of the American reading public. In the citation honoring Berriault, the judges wrote: “Her stories astonish – not only in their range of character and incident, but in their worldliness, their swift and surprising turns, their penetration into palpable love and grief and hope. Her sentences are excitingly, startlingly juxtaposed; and though her language is plain, the complexity of her knowing leads one into mysteries deeper than tears. To discover Berriault is to voyage into uncharted amazements.”