California author wins Pitt’s Drue Heinz Prize for short stories

Kelly Sather, a screenwriter and former entertainment lawyer, has been selected as the 2023 winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, given out annually by the University of Pittsburgh Press for a collection of short stories.

Kelly SatherSather of Larkspur, Calif., will receive a cash prize of $15,000, publication  by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and support in a nationwide promotion of their book. Her debut book, “Small in Real Life,” was selected by author Deesha Philyaw, National Book Award finalist and author of “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.” The Pitt Press will publish “Small in Real Life” this fall.

“This compact but mighty collection explores both the heights and depths of the unsavory business of being human,” Philyaw said in a news release. “With exquisite, emotionally rich prose, every single story surprises and unsettles. Tenderness co-exists with terror, beauty alongside betrayal. Characters are at turns earnest and terrible as they grapple with longing, lust, grief, regret, and disappointment in these utterly original stories. The heart of this brilliant collection is chaos –– the way the universe is chaotic, unpredictable, and simply dazzling.” 

The stories in “Small in Real Life” invoke the myth and melancholy of Southern California glamour. Exiled to a Malibu rehab, an alcoholic paparazzi spies on his celebrity friend for an online tabloid. Down to her last dollar, a Hollywood hanger-on steals designer handbags from her dying friend’s bungalow. Blinded by grief, an L.A. judge atones after condescending to a failed actress on a date. 

“I’m thrilled and honored Deesha Philyaw selected my story collection for the Drue Heinz Prize,” Sather said in the news release. “When I submitted the manuscript I imagined this step towards publishing, but to hear the good news, that my stories were selected by a writer I admire so much and my first book will be published this year, was tremendous. I’m grateful to Deesha Philyaw, Drue Heinz and University of Pittsburgh Press for their support of the short story.

Sather grew up in Los Angeles. and lives in Northern California. Her stories and reviews have appeared in Santa Monica Review, J Journal, Pembroke Magazine, PANK, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere.

Drue Heinz, who passed away in 2018, created the endowment for this accolade in 1981. Jane McCafferty is the managing editor for the Drue Heinz Prize. 

Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize

Ryler DustinRyler Dustin of Bellingham, Wash., is the 2023 winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for his collection “Trailer Park Psalms.” Dustin’s debut collection was selected by poet Jeffrey McDaniel. The University of Pittsburgh Press will publish “Trailer Park Psalms” as part of the acclaimed Pitt Poetry Series this September.

“I love how these poems play to our senses, how the tactile details — courtesy of taut diction and the author’s attentive ear — come to life in the reader’s mind,” McDaniel said. “And the high level of elegance and wisdom in these pages; Dustin dives into the murkiness of the past and emerges holding something holy and beautiful.”  

“Trailer Park Psalms” traces the speaker’s journey beyond his boyhood trailer park, through an American landscape marked by violence.

Dustin has represented Seattle on the final stage of the Individual World Poetry Slam. His poems appear in outlets like American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily, Gulf Coast, The Best of Iron Horse and The Best of Button Poetry. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston and a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He currently lives and teaches in Michigan.