a Saturday afternoon that dripped with sticky June heat,
author Ben Hoffman and his groomsmen readied for his
impending nuptials in Chicago’s West Loop by basking
in his hotel suite’s air conditioning and a few
moments of tranquility, a respite from the wedding day
frenzy. With just about four hours to go before the
ceremony, the Harrisburg, Pa., native got a call from an
unknown number with a Chicago area code.
Hoffman’s mind went to calamity, he said. It was the
caterer calling to say he’d lost their order, or the
florist unable to deliver the flowers, or a relative
stranded on Interstate 94 with a flat tire.
the call was from the Chicago Tribune, and it was the
opposite of cataclysmic news: Hoffman’s story
"This Will All Be Over Soon" had won the 2014
Nelson Algren Short Story Award.
are not too many times that you could say that winning
the Nelson Algren Award is the second-best thing that
happened to you that day," Hoffman, 30, said with a
laugh. "It was a great day. I will remember it for
Algren Award, a literary prize honoring short fiction
given annually by the Tribune, caps a recent spate of
good news for Hoffman. Aside from his wedding and
honeymoon in Spain and Portugal, from which he had
returned two days earlier, Hoffman was awarded a
yearlong fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing (he’ll start in the fall), and his
first chapbook, "Together, Apart," was
published in March.
his stories have won or been finalists for awards from
short story magazine Zoetrope: All-Story and literary
journal Crazyhorse, and have appeared or are forthcoming
in The Missouri Review, Tin House (online) and Fugue.
award-winning story will be published Aug. 3 in the
Tribune’s Printers Row Journal.
graduate of Tufts University and the University of North
Carolina at Wilmington, Hoffman focused his attention on
writing just five years ago when he began applying to
graduate schools, though he said he’s always been a
daydreamer and a voracious reader.
jealous of those people who knew from age 5 that they
wanted to be a writer or a doctor or anything, because I
always felt like I had a lot of interests," he
said. "I’ve always been an imaginative and
perceptive person. I am happy watching things and taking
in the details. I’m always thinking about the
in 1981 by Chicago magazine and administered by the
Tribune since 1986, the Nelson Algren Awards have
traditionally gone to green writers, some of whom became
literary luminaries. Louise Erdrich, Stuart Dybek and
Kim Edwards are a few of the now-famous authors who won
before leaving their marks on the book world.
has a rich and enduring literary legacy, and the Nelson
Algren Awards support this tradition and encourage a new
generation of storytellers," Tribune Editor Gerould
Kern said. "These awards, along with Printers Row
Journal, our literary festival and author series, affirm
the Tribune’s commitment to literature, reading and
grand-prize-winning piece, which follows an unnamed
husband dealing with the kidnapping of his wife, was
selected from about 2,400 entries, nearly double the
number of stories submitted last year. After four rounds
of judging, authors Roxana Robinson, Peter Orner and
Yiyun Li picked Hoffman, who will receive a $3,500 cash
prize, as well as four finalists and four runners-up.
year’s finalists, who will receive $1,000 each, are
D.E. Lee for "Love Like the Sky," Dominic
Smith for "Burns & Falls," Sandra Hunter
for "Jewels We Took With Us" and Micah Dean
Hicks for "The Book of Locusts." Runners-up,
who will receive $500 each, are Collete Sartor for
"Once Removed," Rachel Yoder for "On
Innocence," Michael Devens for "The Lives of
Creatures Underwater" and G. Bernhard Smith for
"The Immortal Mrs. Trubridge."
stories seem to capture the full spectrum of human
emotion," Tribune Literary Editor at Large
Elizabeth Taylor said of this year’s honorees,
"and they were not only highly accomplished and
polished works of fiction but were also full of
slightly absurdist "This Will All Be Over
Soon" follows a man whose neighbor kidnapped his
wife, Julie, 11 months earlier, leaving him to parent
his young daughter, Lucy, alone. Told in first person
through the father, the story takes on a magical quality
when Lucy seems to begin communicating telepathically
with her mother, leaving readers to find truth amid the
mysteries and irrationalities in the story’s world.
by frustration with bored SWAT team members who play
cards instead of strategizing, the man attempts to
rescue Julie, to heartbreaking effect.
am interested in writing about people or families
struggling to feel safe and do right by each other in a
world that often doesn’t feel safe or seems like it’s
hard to feel safe in," Hoffman said. "I am
definitely interested in magical realism, as well as the
intersection of humor and trauma."
"confident and surprising" tone struck contest
judge Robinson: "What makes (this piece) so
impressive is the smooth, accomplished writing, which
gives you the sense that you are actually living this
story," she wrote in an email. "I like the way
it feels like a story you are in, not one you are
learning about. And this suggests that the heart of the
story itself — which is one of abandonment, anguish,
desolation — is something we can’t understand, any
more than we can exactly understand the mysteries of the
King, founding editor of Origami Zoo Press and editor of
Hoffman’s chapbook, said she was attracted to Hoffman’s
ability to make offbeat scenarios and flawed characters
feel whole and authentic.
has the ability to put the reader in a world that can be
slightly strange ... and really tap into the humanity
there and make it feel real and complete and never
forced," she said.
think (Hoffman) is a good example of a writer whose
deepest strength, beyond intelligence, is a kind of
empathy, a way of seeing the world from inside his
character’s psyches," said Rebecca Lee, an author
and one of Hoffman’s graduate-school professors at UNC-Wilmington.
"I think his work is really important. It feels
like he’s writing about things that really matter, and
he’s using narrative as genuine investigation, but it’s
also really just plain interesting to read."
Hoffman and his wife ready to move to Madison, Wis., for
his fellowship at the University of Wisconsin, Hoffman
is completing a collection of stories and beginning a
"This Will All Be Over Soon" is set in a
mystical world, kidnappings are, unfortunately, not a
rare occurrence in the real world. Now that he’s
married, Hoffman said he would like to think he wouldn’t
wait 11 months to act like his narrator.
can be someone who’s sometimes passive or takes too
long to make a decision," Hoffman said. "I
think that I would have this fantasy, as I think the
narrator does, of playing some sort of hero or having
some sort of violent triumph. ... If in my world the
SWAT guys were playing cards and drinking lemonade, I
would certainly be putting a bit more pressure on the