Kate Osana Simonian’s short story was chosen from among 3,900 entries.
Kate Osana Simonian, a doctoral student in the Texas Tech University Department of English, is the grand prize winner of this year's Nelson Algren Literary Award competition.
Part of the Chicago Tribune's extensive literary program, the prize carries a cash award of $3,500. Out of 3,900 entries, Simonian was named the winner after four rounds of judging, in which authors' names are removed so stories may be evaluated purely on their own merits.
“This is a very prestigious prize, and although I've won prizes in the past, none have been on a global scale,” she said. “This is like being told that I write at a professional level. I feel like I've been given permission to be a writer; like I've been told that yes, people want to read what I write, and that makes me want to tackle the ‘task' of writing – it can often feel like just that – with more joy and excitement, because people may, and have, actually read my work.”
Simonian's short story, “Le Problem Being,” tells the tale of Tracey, whose parents take her to France in an effort to combat her depression over being diagnosed with HIV, dumped by her fiancé and fired from her job. While there, Tracey's parents set her up with the son of another couple they meet, despite her condition.
“I feel incredibly fortunate and a little bit ashamed to win,” Simonian admitted. “That might sound strange, but as a writer you get used to sort of firing stuff out there and sometimes getting it published, but usually not for any money. And then you have this story that seems to get, for no reason you can discern, this massive reward and you feel bewildered. At least I do. And you are aware, too, that there must have been a couple of hundred entries as technically skilled as yours, and it feels like what you're celebrating is not the victory of your story, but the lucky stroke that meant yours was chosen.
“It's odd to celebrate that, because mentally you've had to construct a system of ‘reward' for your writing based on the process, not product. It also feels strangely idolatrous. I know a response like this may sound bizarre and ungracious. People expect me to say that I am just thrilled, incredibly excited. And I was at first. So, so excited. But there's also a heavy dose of confusion that comes with such an outsized event.”
Simonian, an Armenian-Australian writer, is attending Texas Tech as a presidential fellow. In 2017, she received the Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and her work has been published by, or is forthcoming in, Ninth Letter, The Kenyon Review Online, Passages North and The Best Australian Stories. She is working on a story collection and a novel.