Debut US author Emily Ruskovich (33) wins €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award

‘The recognition is life-changing. The money will give me time. As a writer, that’s so precious’

Emily Ruskovich: “It is difficult to know how to respond to the magnitude of this kindness that has been so suddenly bestowed upon me.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Emily Ruskovich: “It is difficult to know how to respond to the magnitude of this kindness that has been so suddenly bestowed upon me.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

This year’s €100,000 International Dublin Literary Award has been won by 33-year-old US author Emily Ruskovich for her debut novel, Idaho.

The writer was the outsider on a 10-strong shortlist that included George Saunders, Kamila Shamsie and Mathias Énard, winners respectively of the 2017 Man Booker Prize, last year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Prix Goncourt, as well as Irish favourites Sally Rooney and Bernard MacLaverty and a previous winner of the award, Jon McGregor.

“I cannot express how grateful I am to be the recipient of this astonishingly generous award,” said Ruskovich, who got the news the day after moving into her new home with her husband and baby. “It is difficult to know how to respond to the magnitude of this kindness that has been so suddenly bestowed upon me. I feel humbled. I feel overwhelmed with the enormity of my gratitude.

“I am especially honoured because of the admiration that I feel for the other finalists, authors who are all doing such crucial and beautiful work. Seeing my name alongside Sally Rooney and George Saunders and all the other authors when the shortlist was announced – that alone was one of the greatest honours of my career.

“It was probably the biggest shock of my entire life, I’m still in shock. When I called my Mom she was so happy and I was suddenly worried that I was going to take her happiness away, that this wasn’t real, that I said Mom, I’m not actually sure what I’m telling you is true, what if I misunderstood, if I just assumed something instead of really hearing the news? So I was so relieved when there was an email follow-up.

“It’s very life-changing, just the recognition. It makes me very emotional. The prize money will be used for something more fun than paying a mortgage. It will give me time and that is so, so precious to me as a writer, to spend on my next novel. Any writer will say that. Since my baby was born time has been ever more precious and rare.”

Idaho is set in a remote part of the state where the author grew up. One hot August day a couple and their two young girls drive to a mountain clearing to cut and collect wood. An inexplicable, unimaginably shocking event occurs, which tears the family apart. The book explores what led up to it and its aftermath, with different narrative voices and a shifting timeline spanning 50 years. The writing is lyrical and psychologically acute, particularly strong on nature, childhood and female friendship.

The novel, which took six years to write, started life as a 70-page novella and was about to be published as part of a short story collection when Ruskovich’s editor suggested that it had enough potential to be a novel. Given that her professor of creative writing had said the same thing, Ruskovich took the advice, which now has paid off in spades.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she teaches creative writing at Boise State University and lives in Idaho City.

“Idaho impresses on many levels,” said judge Eilís Ní Dhuibhne. “It is experimental without being in the least flamboyant. The prose is strong and lyrical; the characterisation is perfect; the sense of place impeccable. And it is a novel with deep emotional wisdom, with a beating human heart – maybe it is this quality which lifts fiction out of the category of the competent, the impressive, the good, and into the realm of great literature. Emily Ruskovich is a courageous and brilliant writer and this is an outstanding novel.”

Fellow judge Yan Ge said: “I’m mesmerized by the complexity of the narrative from the first paragraph and amazed by how Ruskovich braids different time strands into this magnificent tapestry. The story is charged with emotion but proceeds with great restraint. Ruscovich is a writer with a masterful vision.”

Idaho was nominated by the public library in Brugge, Belgium, whose librarian said: “This special debut novel is a real gem because of the atmosphere as well as the special structure of the novel. Emily Ruskovich leaves bread crumbs by means of different stories. It’s nice to zig-zag through time in a world of multiple truths. Toward the end the stories become shorter and supported by the long descriptions of the lonely, sinister and misty landscape.”

The most valuable annual literary prize for a single work of fiction in English, it is sponsored by Dublin City Council and managed by Dublin City Libraries. Paul McAuliffe, Lord Mayor and patron of the award, said: “The International Dublin Literary Award is a great Dublin success and an even greater international success. Our thanks go to all who are involved in making the award work – writers, translators, publishers, librarians, and the administrative staff of the City Council.”

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