photo by Marion EttlingerThe Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award winner for 2011 is William Lychack of Stamford, Vermont. Foundation judges felt that readers of every ilk will read and enjoy the novel The Wasp Eater because of Lychack's diligent craft and honesty. No clichés, emotional or verbal, or hyper-inflated phrasing spoils the reader's waking dream here, but rather a poet's sentience and close craftsmanship come together in the service of an important story. Oddly, though, Lychack's slow, thoughtful novel is also a real page-turner.
His story collection The Architect of Flowers (Houghton Mifflin, 2011) limits the subject matter in each work so that the narrator can look closely at what he has mapped out and thereby open up his subject almost fully to the reader--reserving some mystery to himself, nevertheless. The reader's perception of that mystery is significant and part of the fun; thus, Lychack gives us fine writing and necessary, important writing at once. "The Old Woman and Her Thief," for example, is one of the best in this collection because it unites a realistic setting and characters seamlessly with subtle mythic elements to produce a single, lasting effect; no showing-off here for the sake of it, but simply, in several positive senses, a great story that contributes as well to American literary writing. Read this interesting book to see what we mean.
Lychack's work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and other places, including public radio's This American Life. One of his more recent stories is titled "Chickens."
He was the Writer-in-Residence from 2006 to 2010 at Phillips Academy, and is currently a member of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has published children's books, corporate histories, and has worked as a teacher, editor, speechwriter, ghostwriter, journalist, lifeguard, carpenter, bartender, janitor, Mr. Softee Ice Cream Man, and a Judo instructor.
Lychack says he tells his students and himself often: "Learn that it's all about caring. You need to care so much that you don't care if anyone else cares. Which might make them care. Or might make you secretly care if they care. And might make you do everything in your power to get them to care. The writer and editor William Maxwell once gave me the following advice: 'Try to listen to your feelings as you would to the sound in a sea shell, and then put them down on paper.' That seems the kind of perfect, direct, and useful counsel that an aspiring writer (such as me) might ignore for a good decade. And one ignores it for good reason--it's difficult work--but your real job is to care enough to say what you feel about the world."