Manhattanville Reid Castle In the Spring

Elizabeth Eslami Wins Ohio State University Prize for Short Story Collection

Elizabeth Islami author of short story collection Hibernate

Elizabeth Eslami, undergraduate and graduate writing Professor at Manhattanville College, is the proud winner of the 2013 Ohio State University Prize for her short story collection Hibernate, to be published in January 2014.

Eslami is the Iranian-American author of the acclaimed 2010 novel Bone Worship. Her essays, short stories, and travel writing have appeared or are forthcoming most recently in The Rumpus, The Literary Review, Michigan Quarterly Review and The Sun. Her work is featured in the anthologies Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers and Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema.

Below is a Q/A, where Eslami talks about her recent success, her inspirations, and writing in general.

How does it feel to have this achievement under your belt?

I feel grateful. It's always a joy to get something if you've had to wait for it, work for it, and weather rejection in the process. I'm proud of this collection. I also know that because this is the OSU Prize in Short Fiction, a lot of very talented writers submitted to it, which means there was a good deal of luck involved too. I know exactly how it feels to get close and not win. This collection was a finalist in 2011 for the Flannery O'Connor Award in Short Fiction, which gave me reason to hope, to keep sending it out there.

I'm a novelist, but story collections have always been my first love. That OSU Press will publish Hibernate is a tremendous honor.

What is Hibernate about?

Hibernate is a collection of eleven stories set in various locations, from Northwest Montana to Southern California, from Iran to the Arctic, about people slowly waking to the reality of some hard choices. A Sudanese immigrant tries to start a life with his girlfriend in the US, only to find himself pulled toward his mother, who deserted him. A group of American tourists visits an Indian Pueblo and realizes their tour guide isn't at all who they expected. Their ship moored on the ice, a captain and his men cling to the company of narwhals and Eskimos. The characters and the places couldn't be more varied, yet you feel where they connect. Bad things happen to these people, and weird things, and it's interesting to watch them buckle and squirm their way to the next day, the next week, the next year. These people aren't finished "becoming."

What was your inspiration for the collection?

I'm a fan of unlinked story collections. At a certain point in publishing, there was this notion that the only viable collection was a linked one, and while there are plenty of great linked collections, I love seeing what a writer can do when given the freedom to start fresh each time. The breadth of unlinked stories, the range of stylistic choices. That the Karen Russell of "Haunting Olivia" is also the Karen Russell of "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves."

With Hibernate, I wanted to write the best short stories I could write at this time in my life. I write about places I care about, disparate things I'm interested in, which is why you'll see Arctic explorers, animals, and plastic surgery in the same collection. I also love trying to write my own version of my favorite writers' stories. So "Jocko Hollow," for instance, is my Richard Ford Rock Springs story. "Victory Forge" is my Ben Percy story. I tried to capture a little of Lorrie Moore in "Continuity in Filmmaking." When you read stuff by another author that makes you sweat, you can either be defeated by it – Why didn't I write that? I'll never write anything like that – or you can scramble up the mountain after the giants. You'll get dirt in your face, but it's worth the climb.

What is the significance of the title?

There's a story in the collection called "Hibernators," about two people in love who decide to escape the world by tunneling underground. Most of these stories are about people trying to escape somehow, by not making decisions even when those decisions are chasing them down, demanding to be dealt with.

When we read about animals hibernating, we think about The Big Sleep, when in fact bears will come out of their dens sometimes during hibernation, move around, eat some grass, go back in. It's a lot like driving on autopilot, going for miles without any memory of what you've done. The idea of people hibernating is interesting to me, especially the thought that some of us prefer life as sleepwalkers to the pain of full awareness.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

More gratitude. I'm grateful to be teaching at Manhattanville, to have such wonderful colleagues and students who inspire me to no end. Plus, encouragement for all of us who are writing and trying to put our work out into the world. Submit, writers! You will get rejected, but that's just the beginning of it. Lick your wounds over lunch. By dinner, send out ten more.