I could claim to have know him when. But the glory belongs only to author Shawn Vestal. I simply had the good fortune to talk with the recipient of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham literary prize a couple weeks before he was presented the award this fall in New York City.
The $25,000 award, the richest from the PEN American Center, is presented for an outstanding work of debut fiction. Vestal was brought to the podium by acclaimed author Louise Erdrich as he sat among other notable novelists and playwrights. An account of his win and subsequent discussion of the literary climate in Spokane, WA where he is a columnist is related in his home newspaper, The Spokesman-Review.
Vestal's short stories are collected in Godforsaken Idaho. In The Spokesman-Review piece, Gregory Spatz and Sam Ligon of Eastern Washington University's MFA program discuss Vestal's story collection which was written as his master's thesis. They also talk about the wealth of writing talent in Washington state and specifically, Spokane, home to another acclaimed author and former Spokesman-Review journalist, Jess Walter, one of Vestal's pals. They are but two on a long list of writing talent in or from that region of the great Northwest. Check out the Spokesman-Review article for much more name-dropping.
Vestal joins an amazing list of writers. I'm thrilled and lucky that a fellow journalist, Gary Graham, Editor-In-Chief at Spokane and formerly state editor at the Fort Wayne (IN) News-Sentinel links us all together. Graham edited me a hundred years ago when I was a stringer and newly-turned out reporter and journalism grad from Ball State University in Muncie, IN. Today, he edits Vestal in Spokane at the same paper where Walter once worked and where his brother, Ralph Walter, still does. A little drinking water from Spokane, anyone?