“Nesset Captures National Award,” Interview in the Meadville Tribune (November, 2006)
November 10, 2006
By Mary Spicer
11/11/06 — Kirk Nesset was in his office at Allegheny College Thursday morning, just about to teach his 11 o’clock class, when the telephone rang. When he said “hello,” life as Nesset knows it changed forever.
Ed Ochester of University of Pittsburgh was on the line — calling to notify the associate professor of English and creative writing that he has been named 2007 winner of the coveted Drue Heinz Literature Prize.
“I was completely astounded,” Nesset recalled. “This just isn’t a ‘better’ achievement award for a writer of stories. It’s the ultimate.” In addition to $15,000 cash and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press, “it’s an instant boost to anybody’s career — and a vote of confidence, I think.”
Designed to recognize and support writers of short fiction while making their work available to readers worldwide, the award has been described in PittChronicle, Newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh, as “one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for a book of short stories.” The competition is open to previously-published writers; manuscripts are judged anonymously by a different nationally-known writer each year.
Nesset’s winning manuscript, “Paradise Road,” was judged by Hilary Masters.
The short stories in “Paradise Road,” in Nesset’s words, “explore in their various ways the pitfalls we suffer trying to find lasting meaning in love, experiences that tear us to pieces, making us think trust won’t ever again be possible — experiences that lead us more deeply into ourselves, hopefully, into compassion for self, and for others.”
A formal announcement will be made by University of Pittsburgh Press in December or January.
“I’m tickled,” Nesset said with delight. “They kick us around for years and years and then they pick us up and dust us off and kiss us.”
Winner of the also-coveted Pushcart Prize in 1999, Nesset describes himself as “always working in multi-directions.” His latest project, for example, is “Alphabet of the World,” a translation of the poems of Eugenio Montejo, a Venezuelan poet. “I found that working in Spanish — and creating works of English out of Spanish — has really expanded my sense of what my own language can do,” Nesset said.
The translations themselves, he added, are selling like hotcakes. “Everyone loves translations. They love ethnicity, especially if it’s from countries that are in opposition to (President George W.) Bush. Montejo’s a great writer. I’ve learned a lot about him, and it’s very transforming to work in another writer’s mind. And to translate work from another way of thinking. Spanish and English are two different ways of thinking.”
Originally from northern California, in the western Sonoma County area north of San Francisco known as the Russian River region, Nesset studied at University of California Santa Cruz and University of California Santa Barbara. Before coming to Allegheny, he taught for four years at Whittier College in California.
Now in his 11th year at Allegheny, where he teaches fiction and poetry writing as well as a variety of courses exploring American and English literature, Nesset spends alternate summers as writer-in-residence at the Writers Center at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York.
Next weekend, however, he’ll be working in yet another direction, performing at Meadville Town Tavern singing and playing lead guitar for Unkle John’s Band. The music begins Friday night at 9:30 p.m.