Professor Jim Shepard Wins 2016 Rea Award for Short Story

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., May 4, 2017—Jim Shepard, the J. Leland Miller Professor of American History, Literature and Eloquence in the Department of English at Williams College, has won the 2016 Rea Award for the Short Story. This is the second consecutive year a member of the Williams English department has won the award. Last year, Andrea Barrett, senior lecturer in English, won the award.

Jim Shepard
Photo credit: Barry Goldstein

Shepard is the author of five short story collections and seven novels. His most recent collection is The World to Come (2017, Knopf), about which The Daily Beast wrote, “Without a doubt the most ambitious story writer in America, Jim Shepard spans borders and centuries with unrivaled mastery … [his] characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale. Shepard makes … these wildly various worlds his own, and never before has he delineated anything like them so powerfully.”

A professor at Williams since 1983, Shepard teaches creative writing, contemporary literature, and film. “It’s always a little stunning to have the good fortune to be singled out for any recognition,” Shepard notes, “but it’s particularly wonderful when those providing the recognition are writers whose work you so admire.”

The jurors for this special year, the Rea Award’s 30th anniversary, were previous winners Deborah Eisenberg, Amy Hempel, and Joy Williams. They wrote this citation for Shepard’s award:

“In the course of visiting other centuries, a range of nations, and the homes of ordinary citizens, Jim Shepard has—in five stellar collections of stories and seven novels—proved himself an original, darkly funny, and deeply humane writer. His prodigious research combined with a kind of X-ray vision of the soul produces stories that we learn from, that improve us, that expand our sense of what a life can be. He is a master of stance and throwaway wit. His scholarship and surpassing imagination work in tandem in matchless stories that glorify the commonplace and understate the extraordinary. He reveals people —not ‘characters’—through sports, history, dogs, drama, the Hindenburg. He sees the everyday violence of family life as both a given and an illimitable mystery. He shows us the world as it could have been, as it is, and to cite his most recent collection: The World to Come.”

Among Shepard’s short story collections are Batting Against Castro (1996, Knopf); Love and Hydrogen (2004, Vintage); Like You’d Understand, Anyway (2007, Knopf), which won the Story Prize and was a finalist for The National Book Award; and You Think That’s Bad (2011, Knopf). His novels include Flights (1983, Knopf); Paper Doll (1986, Knopf); Lights Out in the Reptile House (1990, W.W. Norton & Co.); Kiss of the Wolf (1994, Harcourt); Nosferatu (1998, Knopf); Project X (2004, Knopf), which won the Library of Congress/Massachusetts Book Award and the ALEX Award from the American Library Association; and The Book of Aron (2015, Knopf), which won the Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature from the American Library Association, the PEN/New England Award for Fiction and the L.D. and Laverne Harrell Clark Fiction Prize.

Born in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1956, Shepard received his bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in 1978 and his M.F.A. from Brown University in 1980. Shepard lives in Williamstown with his wife, writer Karen Shepard, their three children and three beagles.

Under the direction of Elizabeth Richebourg Rea, the annual $30,000 Rea Award is named in honor of Michael Moorhead Rea, a passionate reader who wrote short fiction and collected first editions of American short stories. To administer the annual award, Rea established the Dungannon Foundation, which is named for his paternal hometown in Northern Ireland. In addition to the Rea Award for the Short Story, Dungannon also sponsors the Rea Visiting Writers and Rea Visiting Lecturers at the University of Virginia.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.