December 10, 2007

Benedict wins third Pushcart Prize for fiction

by Andrea Hahn


Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Pinckney Benedict, professor of fiction writing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, collected a 2008 Pushcart Prize for "Mercy," his fictional story about family conflicts that arise when a miniature horse farm moves into West Virginia farm country.

The Pushcart Prize is an annual award given to a small selection of stories, poems and other literary works that appeared in small press publications during the award year. Nominations come from small press editors and from a permanent Pushcart Prize committee. The prize began in 1976, the brainchild of Bill Henderson.

This is Benedict's third Pushcart Prize. He is also a past winner of an O. Henry Award, John Steinbeck Award, James Michener Fellowship and Nelson Algren Award from the Chicago Tribune. Such recognition has not become old hat to Benedict.

"Having people say they like your fiction – whether it's a stranger, a friend, a family member, a crazy dude who lives in a box, an editor, or someone on a prize committee – that never gets old, just as the thrill of having someone say, 'I love you,' never gets old," he said, adding that recognition in the form of a Pushcart Prize reaffirms to small press editors that "at least as far as Henderson and the Pushcart editors are concerned, they were right to take the piece."

Benedict is a well-established author, having written two novels and with three collections of short stories to his credit. Yet, he remains devoted to the small press.

"Those of us who write 'literary' fiction live and die by the small presses," he said. "My first book was published by a small press, and almost all my stories have appeared in magazines that qualify for the Pushcart. And small presses are always a labor of love and exist only through the sacrifice of the time, treasure and talent of those involved."

Henderson agrees, saying that his long tenure with the Pushcart Prize has uplifted his spirit. "Literature renews itself, like life itself," he said. "Almost all the great things in literature start with the small presses."

Henderson said several Pushcart winners have won the award twice, but three times is unusual. "Pinckney Benedict is a terrific writer," he said.

"Mercy" began as a short film featuring Benedict's daughter. Benedict said the story has "nonfiction" elements based on his own experiences when a farm south of his family's dairy farm in West Virginia began raising miniature horses. The "Living on Earth" radio show asked Benedict for a story for its Christmas edition, so he expanded the film script into a radio story. It aired in 2005 and again in 2006. The "Ontario Review" published the story in its current form.

Benedict joined SIUC's faculty in 2006. He is the author of two novels, "Dogs of God" and "Wild Bleeding Heart." He also has two collections of short stories to his credit – "Town Smokes" and "The Wrecking Yard," as well as stories forthcoming in a variety of markets. His bachelor's degree is from Princeton University, where celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates was a mentor. His master's degree in fine arts is from the University of Iowa, where he still returns as faculty for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Benedict's teaching experience includes creative writing faculties at Princeton, Oberlin College, Hope College and, most recently, Hollins University in Virginia.

The Pushcart Prize winner anthologies are available annually. "Mercy" appears in "Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses." Order the volume through a local bookstore, or directly from W. W. Norton and Co. at