NIU alumnus Ian Stansel published his first book last year. And now it’s up for a top literary award from PEN America with a prize of $25,000.
Almost all of the nine short stories in Stansel’s book, “Everybody’s Irish,” take place in Illinois, and a common theme in the book is parenthood and childhood.
“Geography may seem incidental to some,” said Stansel, who grew up in Park Ridge. “But to me, the settings of my stories have a great influence in not just the events, but the ways in which the characters understand and react to the world.”
In some of the stories, he presents the element of randomness in life – things that happen in unpredictable and unpreventable ways.
The title is based on his short story that occurs in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day, when people say, “Everybody is Irish.”
His book grew out of a novel that he was working on for a dissertation at the University of Houston, where he earned a doctorate in literature and creative writing in 2012.
“I’d managed to write a number of stories during that time. So I revised some of them, wrote a couple more, tossed out one or two and turned that in as my dissertation,” Stansel said. “After that, I think I discarded one or two more, and that’s what ended up being the book.”
PEN selected the book as one of 10 on its long list for the Robert W. Bingham Prize in May, and Stansel found out in June that it was one of five making the short list. The winner will be announced July 30.
PEN America is a prominent literary journal that publishes fiction, poetry, memoirs and conversations.
“As the author of a collection of short stories on a small press, the recognition is invaluable,” said Stansel, whose book has been published by FiveChapters Books.
The 39-year-old is working on a novel with a World War II setting, is a fiction editor for the online literary journal Memorious and teaches writing at Christ College in Cincinnati. His wife is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati, and they are raising a 2-year-old daughter.
In addition to his doctorate, Stansel earned a bachelor’s degree in English at NIU in 2001 and a master’s degree in fiction writing at the University of Iowa in 2005.
The book is available at FiveChapters Books.