Dana Spiotta, author of four novels, most recently 2016's Innocents and Others, is the winner of this year's St. Francis College $50,000 literary prize.
The SFC literary prize is awarded biannually, and is meant to give recognition to writers who've published three to five books — the time at which, according to the SFC literary prize team, "many authors must decide to keep writing or leave the field."
A record 187 authors competed for the prize this year; on the shortlist with Spiotta were Amina Gautier (The Loss of All Lost Things), Mohsin Hamid (Exit West), Adam Haslett (Imagine Me Gone), Selah Saterstrom (Slab), and Deb Olin Unferth (Wait Till You See Me Dance).
"The jury read many, many amazing books over the past six months, and a large number of them deserved recognition," juror René Steinke told BuzzFeed Books. "Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others is masterful and unique in its story-telling. Told through an ingenious arrangement of fragmented narratives and invented sources (biographical essays, video transcripts, diary entries, online chats), Spiotta’s novel features a cast of characters whose flaws are as fascinating and poignant as their ambitions. On the surface, this is a story about a friendship between two female filmmakers, but it's also a really bold examination of the motivations and ethics behind making art."
Spiotta described the prize to BuzzFeed Books as an especial honor, because "for me, a writer's later novels are always more interesting. The early influences fall away, the writer hits a stride in which possibilities expand, abilities peak, and energy has not yet diminished. Ideally experience allows you to take bigger artistic risks, and you become engaged in creating a whole body of work. Innocents and Others was an ambitious, difficult and emotional book for me to write, and I couldn’t have even conceived of it without writing the previous three books, much less executed it."
As for what comes next, Spiotta acknowledged that the encouragement not just in receiving the award but also in being shortlisted with accomplished writers adds "a little pressure to do better and reach further, which is a good thing." And the money doesn't hurt. "Money is a gift of time to a writer: Less time making ends meet equals more time writing," Spiotta said. "Truly, there is never enough time.