2016 Winner
Jim Shepard

2016 Rea Award Winner Jim Shepard
Photo: Barry Goldstein

Deborah Eisenberg
Amy Hempel
Joy Williams

Press Release




Michael M. Rea established the Rea Award in 1986 to honor a writer who has made a significant contribution to the discipline of the short story form. This year marks the Rea Award’s 30th Anniversary. Under the direction of Elizabeth Richebourg Rea, the annual Rea Award continues.When asked what has sustained her three decades on: I am honoring Michael’s legacy; he founded the award out of a passionate love for the short story form. I believe the public profile of the story is stronger today and I think Michael would be encouraged by the output of story writing. The continued pursuit to acknowledge and celebrate short story writers was Michael’s purpose.The journey toward this milestone year has been rewarding beyond measure.

The Jurors for this special year, previous winners of the award, Deborah Eisenberg, Amy Hempel and Joy Williams, have written the following citation:

In the course of visiting other centuries, a range of nations, and the homes of ordinary citizens, JIM SHEPARD has—in five stellar collections of stories and seven novels—proved himself an original, darkly funny, and deeply humane writer. His prodigious research combined with a kind of X-ray vision of the soul produces stories that we learn from, that improve us, that expand our sense of what a life can be. He is a master of stance and throwaway wit. His scholarship and surpassing imagination work in tandem in matchless stories that glorify the commonplace and understate the extraordinary. He reveals people–not “characters”– through sports, history, dogs, drama, the Hindenburg. He sees the everyday violence of family life as both a given and an illimitable mystery. He shows us the world as it could have been, as it is, and, to cite his most recent collection: The World to Come.

Jim Shepard is the author of five short story collections and seven novels. His story collections include Batting Against Castro (1996); Love and Hydrogen (2004); Like You’d Understand, Anyway (2007), which won the Story Prize, and was a finalist for The National Book Award; You Think That’s Bad (2011); and the recently released The World to Come: Stories (2017). His novels include Flights (1983); Paper Doll (1986); Lights Out in the Reptile House (1990); Kiss of the Wolf (1994); Nosferatu (1998); Project X (2004) and The Book of Aron (2015). About The World to Come, The Daily Beast wrote “Without a doubt the most ambitious story writer in America, Jim Shepard spans borders and centuries with unrivaled mastery…[his] characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale. Shepard makes…these wildly various worlds his own, and never before has he delineated anything like them so powerfully.”

Shepard has won the PEN/New England Award for Fiction, the L.D. and Laverne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Six of his short stories have been chosen for the Best American Short Stories, two for the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and one for a Pushcart Prize. Shepard’s short fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Harper’s, The NewYorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope:All Story, Electric Literature, Ploughshares,Triquarterly, Tin House, and Playboy among numerous other magazines.

Jim Shepard has long been passionate in his determination to put science and history to use in fiction, and to, as he puts it, make himself into a more interesting person. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he notes “My fiction is very research-based, but it’s not just because I want to get the facts right. The good news for fiction writers is that once you start reading history, you teach yourself about all sorts of things you didn’t know you didn’t know. And you realize that histories don’t always agree on the facts, so you have a little wiggle room. That wiggle room is where fiction writers operate…I’m trying to do something that persuades me and provides the basis for a persuasive illusion.” In a recent New York Times review, Craig Taylor writes that “This approach gives the individual stories heft and the collections a dizzying range” and that “Shepard also understands that one of the pleasures in reading a story collection lies in seeing how the stories themselves interact.”

The World to Come: Stories chronicles the 1845 Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a British submarine more or less alone in the Indian Ocean at the apogee of Japanese success in the War in the Pacific; and one of the greatest cyclones in Queensland’s recorded history. One of the thematic preoccupations of Shepard’s work has been the amount of trouble we can get into through passivity, and complicity with more aggressive and powerful forces or people. As he’s put it, he’s “always been drawn to catastrophe as a subject, particularly man-made catastrophe.”

In addition to The Rea Award for the Short Story, the Dungannon Foundation also sponsors Rea Visiting Writers and Rea Visiting Lecturers at the University of Virginia, and Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story at Symphony Space in New York City.