2004/05 Winner & Finalists

Edwidge Danticat, Cathy Day, and Joan Silber. (Event photos by Mercedes McAndrew.)

Edwidge Danticat, Cathy Day, and Joan Silber. (Event photos by Mercedes McAndrew.)


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Winner: The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several other books, including the novels Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures. Her stories have appeared in The New YorkerCallaloo, and other magazines as well as Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards.

The Dew Breaker weaves a web of interconnected stories about Haitians and Haitian Americans whose lives have all been touched by the title character, a Brooklyn barber with a secret past as a brutal thug and torturer during the reign of Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti. The term "dew breaker" refers to the practice of members of the Haitian secret police, or Tonton Macoutes, of arriving in the early morning to attack or make an arrest, breaking the dew on the grass as they approach. We see the Dew Breaker through the eyes of several characters including his daughter, a sculptor who had always believed her father was a victim, not a victimizer; a recent immigrant from Haiti renting an apartment in the basement of the Brooklyn house the barber owns; past victims of the torturer's brutality and their families; the man's wife; and, finally, the title character himself.

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Finalist: The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day

Cathy Day grew up in Peru, Indiana, once the winter home of several circuses. One of her great-uncles was the world's fastest ticket taker, another was an elephant trainer. She lives in Ewing, New Jersey, and teaches at The College of New Jersey. The Circus in Winter marks Day's debut as an author. Several of the stories in the book were first published in StoryThe Southern Review, and other magazines.

The Circus in Winter spans three generations of Circus Performers and their descendants in Lima, Indiana, the fictional winter home of the Great Porter Circus. The protagonists of these stories range from Wallace Porter, who bought the circus in the late 1800s after seeing an elephant; to African American members of the mythical Boela Tribe featured in the circus sideshow; to three generations of descendants of an elephant trainer killed by one of his animals. Along the way we encounter a colorful cast of acrobats, freaks, animal trainers, roustabouts, clowns, and good citizens of Lima, all touched by the legacy of the circus, even long after its demise.

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Finalist: Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber

In addition to Ideas of HeavenJoan Silber has also written three novels:Lucky UsIn the City, and Household Words and a short story collection,In My Other Life. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker,PloughsharesThe Paris Review, and other magazines and have been anthologized twice in The Pushcart Prize anthologies and once in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program. She has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Ideas of Heaven was also a finalist for the 2004 National Book Awards. She lives in New York City.

Ideas of Heaven is billed as "a ring of stories," meaning that a secondary element in one story takes center stage in the next. For instance, the sadistic dance instructor in the first story, becomes the protagonist of the second. And the favorite poet of a character in the second story, becomes the subject of the third. Each story connects to the next in this way, with the final story connecting back not only to the first story but to all of the others as well. Settings range from present day New York, California, and France to fourteenth century Venice to China during the Boxer rebellion of 1900. Each story is told in the first person and touches on the spirituality and sexuality of the main characters, which are sometimes in conflict and always intertwined.

The 2004/05 Story Prize Judges

  • Author Dan Chaon
  • Bookseller Ann Christophersen
  • A Public Space editor Brigid Hughes