"Madagascar," 1988

The story: "Madagascar" is told from the perspective of a son whose father is a Holocaust survivor and explores the lifelong effects the father's experience has on the son.

What were you doing then: My first child, Zach, was days away from being delivered when I got the call about winning the Algren Award. It seemed to go along with the birth, marking the occasion with a milestone in my young career as a writer and confirming that I was now really a father myself and my life from here on would be different from anything I imagined.

What are you up to now: I have just published my fifth book, a collection of stories, "Little Raw Souls." It focuses in part, as much of my work has, on fathers and their children. I'm professor of English at Colorado State University, fiction editor of Colorado Review and a faculty member in the low-residency Warren Wilson College master's of fine arts program. We have two children, Zach, 24, and Elena, 21.

What the award meant: I almost feel giddy answering this question: enormous change. The director of the University of Illinois Press was in the audience when I attended the Algren banquet and read from "Madagascar." He asked if I might have a collection of stories and, if so, would I submit it to him? I was just finishing a collection called "Lives of the Fathers." The press published it and that was my second book, which included "Madagascar." "Madagascar" itself went on to have further success: It won an O. Henry Award, was reprinted in "Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards," has been anthologized in college textbooks and was recorded for National Public Radio's "Selected Shorts" series. I still get occasional mail about the story, 25 years since its publication. I wish all my stories were so lucky.


Geoffrey Becker

"Bluestown," 1989

The story: It's about a father and his high school-aged son going on a road trip together. The father, who is divorced from the boy's mother, is a musician. He's charming, talented and given to poor choices. They head north, supposedly for an audition the father has in Canada. The boy is embarrassed when his father talks a band into letting them up onstage to sit in, a situation in which the boy is guaranteed to fail.

What were you doing then: I was living in Iowa City, Iowa, where I had recently earned a master's degree in writing. I had a part-time position working as an academic adviser for the University of Iowa and I lived in a small, noisy apartment alongside U.S. Highway 1 near the center of town. The day I learned I'd won the Algren prize, I had just finished playing basketball with a friend, another writer. We were at his house; I think I checked my answering machine and got the news. I went outside, stood on his lawn, and shouted "Yes!" a bunch of times, while doing a kind of air-punch thing.

What are you up to now: I am a professor at Towson University, in Baltimore where I teach fiction writing. My most recent book, "Hot Springs," came out in 2010 from Tin House Books.

What the award meant: Winning the Algren Award meant an enormous amount to me. The prize money was extremely helpful. I remember shopping for a suit so I'd have something to wear to the ceremony. The prize gave me something big for my résumé, which was still pretty thin back then, and it probably helped make me more competitive when I began applying for teaching positions. I'd already been thinking about ways to expand the story, and winning gave me more confidence. I sold that novel, "Bluestown," a few years later to St. Martin's Press.


Kim Edwards

"Sky Juice," 1990

The story: When a woman's brother is killed in a motorbike accident, she is forced into prostitution and eventually sold as a mail order bride. The story grew out of the years I had spent traveling in Southeast Asia and witnessing some of the devastating effects of poverty. "Sky juice" is a Malaysian term for rain.

What were you doing then: I was living and teaching in Odawara, Japan, when I was summoned from a faculty meeting for the call from the Tribune.

What are you up to now: "Sky Juice" was included in my story collection, "The Secrets of a Fire King," published by Norton in 1997 and reissued by Penguin in 2007. My first novel, "The Memory Keeper's Daughter," was critically acclaimed and became a best-seller. My second novel, "The Lake of Dreams," was also an international best-seller and received good reviews. I was a tenured associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky until I left to write full time. I am now working on a new novel and collection of interrelated stories. I live with my husband and daughters in Lexington, Ky.

What the award meant: I'd been writing quietly, but steadily, since my graduation from the Iowa Writers' Workshop a few years earlier. Teaching English as a second language abroad allowed me to support myself and travel. It gave me both the excitement of new countries and new perspectives and the freedom to take risks in my writing and discover my voice. Yet in those pre-Internet days, it was hard to submit stories, so I was writing without much feedback. Winning the Nelson Algren award was a tremendous affirmation of the work I'd been doing and it gave me confidence to continue. There were many literary luminaries at the awards dinner in Chicago, and I was so honored.