Tobias Wolff

1989 Rea Award Winner Tobias Wolff
Photo: Jerry Bauer

The New York Times
March 23, 1989

Tobias Wolff Awarded Prize for Short Stories

Tobias Wolff was named the winner of the annual $25,000 Rea Award for the Short Story yesterday, a prize given to a living writer in the United States “who has made a significant contribution to the short story as an art form.”

Mr. Wolff, who is the writer in resi­dence at Syracuse University, is the author of two collections of short sto­ries, Back in the World (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981). He also wrote a memoir, This Boy’s Life (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989, $18.95), and a novel, The Barracks Thief (1985).

Donald Barthelme won the 1988 Rea Award.

The jurors for the 1989 award, which is given by the Dungannon Foundation, were C. Michael Curtis, senior editor of The Atlantic, Stanley W. Lindberg, editor of The Georgia Review, and Joy Williams, a novelist and short-story writer.

Publishers Weekly
April 7, 1989

Tobias Wolff is the fourth winner of the $25,000 Rea Award for the Short Story, given annually by the Dungannon Foundation to honor a writer who has made a significant contribution to the form. Previous winners: Cynthia Ozick, Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme.

The Atlanta Journal
March 24, 1989

There’s Nothing Deceptive About This Author’s Success

By Denis Collins
Knight-Ridder Newspapers

He was, by his own admission, a liar and a thief. He stole money from subscribers on his paper router and shoplifted form stores. He and his gang of aspiring delinquents smashed windows and streetlights and sent parked cars careening down hills.

Mostly, Tobias Wolff, who was awarded the 1989 Rea Award for short-story writing on Wednesday, was a kid on the outside, evicted form the kingdom of money and privilege, alternately shouting his anger and trying on disguises to get back inside the golden gates.

“Even though I lived in a place where everyone knew who I was, I couldn’t help but try to introduce new version of myself as my interests changed, and as other versions failed to persuade,” writes Mr. Wolff in This Boy’s Life (Atlantic Monthly Press). “I recognized no obstacle to miraculous change but the incredulity of others. This was an idea that died hard, if it ever really died at all.”

The author’s memoir, which one critic characterized as “growing up sneaky in America, “ reads like a contemporary fable.

A family is split by divorce. Brother Geoffrey stays with Dad and his money in Connecticut, attends prep school and Princeton. Brother Tobias hits the road with Mom in a Nash Rambler heading West. After a few stops for braggart boyfriends, Mom finally marries Dwight, an abusive alcoholic who steals Tobias’s money and trades his prized rifle for a hunting dog.

And for the dramatic and unlikely ending? Both brothers become famous authors who write books about their childhoods.

“Actually, our books are very different because our take on life is so different, “ said Mr. Wolff during a visit to San Francisco. “Geoffrey’s book [The Duke of Deception, published in 1979] is mostly about our father. Father has no real part to play in mine, except by his absence.”

Tobias Wolff is a trim 43-year-old with a bald pate and a handsome, unlined face. In his rimless spectacles, he looks like the high school English teacher he once was. He seems so content with himself, it is hard to associate him with the compulsive liar and deceiver he describes in his book.

“The transformation of me was in coming to value self-esteem rather than the esteem of others,” says Mr. Wolff.

For a moment, you wonder if he could be making this transformation stuff up.

“I sitll have the urge to re-create myslef,” he says, answering the unasked question. “But now that I have a vocation, I can do it in my wiritng. It no longer makes me so unstable.”

In the book, Mr. Woolf writes of how he was abused by his step-father and how he refused to cry.

“I think we learn self pity by example,” Mr. Wolff says. “I didn’t see any examples of that except for the blowhard men that were around. I think that’s why I felt superior to hem. And I know that’s why Dwight hated me so much. He recognized my contempt.”

Mr. Wolff also accepted his fate as something dserved. “I was subjet to fits of feeling myself unworthy, somehow deeply at fualt. It didn’t take much to bring this sensation to life, along with the certainty that everybody but my mother saw throught me and did not like what they saw,” he writes.

This is Mr. Wolff’s first non-fiction book. He has written two short story collections, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981) and Back in the World (1985). A novella, The Barracks Thief, won the 1985 FEN-Faulkner Award.

He lives with his wife, Cathering, and two sons, 8 and 10, in Connecticut. There are times, he says, when he looks at his sons and wonders what mischief they my have inherited. “What goes around comes around” Mr. Wolff says. “One of the them especially is stamped with the mark.”

The Litchfield County Times
Litchfield, CT
April 7, 1989

Washington Resident’s Rea Award: Recipient Named

By Antoinette Bosco

Tobias Wolff, author of two short story collections, one novel and a memoir, has been named the 1989 winner of the $25,000 Rea Award for the Short Story, the fourth writer to receive this prize.

“I am very please. I think Toby Wolff is a very good selection,” said Michael Rea of Washington. A retired businessman, Mr. Rea established this award in 1986’ to be given ,annually through his Dungannon Foundation to a living American writer who, in his words, “has made a significant contribution to the art form of the short story.”

Mr.· Wolff, a writer-in-residence at Syracuse University, has received high acclaim for his short story collections, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, (1981) and Back in the World (1985).

“One thing you, can say about Toby Wolff—he cares in a sensitive way about the human condition,” said Mr. Rea. “He’s not a stenographer of the surface. Toby gets down to the hard core of how people feel, how they live, their frustrations … There’s a lot of depth to Toby and it comes out in his writing.”

Mr: Rea said he had never met Mr. Wolff until after the three-member jury came out of their deliberations and announced their choice. He himself has nothing to do with the process, said the Washington resident; the recipient is nominated.and selected by a jury of literary professionals.

“I met him and his wife,Catherine,in New York only two nights ago,” Mr. Rea said last Friday, adding the winner is a delightful man.”

“I was the one who called him to telI him he had been chosen, “Mr. Rea went on, saying that informing the winner is the “great thing I get to do every year.” He attempted to reach Mr. Wolff at 2 p.m., “but he wasn’t home. His car had broken down that day. But I got them at 10 that evening,” he related.

For Mr. Wolff; the call meant that a day which had started out rather badly ended on a high note. “He said ‘now I can go out and buy a new car;’” Mr. Rea reported, adding that the point of a $25,000 award is to “give them a little padding financially so they can keep on writing short stories.”

Previous winners of the Rea Award for the Short Story were Cynthia Ozick in 1986, Robert Coover, 1987 and Donald Barthelme, 1988.