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Tobias Wolff wins Story Prize for short fiction

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Author Tobias Wolff won the annual Story Prize for short fiction on Wednesday for "Our Story Begins," a compendium of some two dozen short stories including 10 never-before published in book form.

"I can't tell you how moved I am by this," said Wolff, best known as a memoirist and short story writer, upon being named the fifth recipient of The Story Prize, which includes a $20,000 award.

He paid tribute to the other two finalists, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, nominated for "Unaccustomed Earth," and Joe Meno, who was cited for "Demons in the Spring." Each received a $5,000 prize.

The choice of Wolff was somewhat of a departure for the annual award, which in the past has gone to lesser-known writers, including the first winner, Edwidge Danticat for "The Dew Breaker," and last year's recipient, Jim Shepard, who won for "Like You'd Understand Anyway."

"Our Story Begins," published by Alfred A. Knopf, includes stories as much as 30 years old, which appeared in earlier collections, but Wolff said he is always revising and editing his published works with a goal of "getting to the essence."

"Perfection is this constant thing you're after," he said, citing the short works of Frank O'Connor and Eudora Welty, which he described as "snowflake perfect."

Wolff, best known for "This Boys Life" which was made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, read an excerpt from "Bullet in the Brain," his violent, darkly comic tale of a bank robbery witnessed by an eloquent but snide book critic whose inability to keep quiet reaps fatal results.

"This story is rather autobiographical," said Wolff, explaining that a friend once recounted having witnessed such a robbery and described the robbers' cliched verbiage as having included the phrase "stick 'em up."

"I could imagine myself laughing" in that situation, said Wolff, a professor at Stanford University.

The three finalists were selected from among 73 story collections published by 56 different publishers or imprints.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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