UK's Ali Smith, Ireland's Colm Toibin, Canada's Miriam Toews on Folio fiction prize shortlist

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LONDON — Tales of troubled families from Kenya and India, the musings of an ironic New York writer and the story of emotionally bruised Canadian siblings are contenders for the Folio Prize, a lucrative fiction award open to English-language authors.

The eight finalists for the 40,000 pound ($61,000) prize, announced Monday, include Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor's Kenyan family epic "Dust"; Akhil Sharma's Indian immigrant story "Family Life"; Brooklyn-based Ben Lerner's autobiographical "10:04"; and Canadian author Miriam Toews' tragicomic tale of sisterhood, "All My Puny Sorrows."

The other finalists are U.S. writer Jenny Offill for her exploration of relationships in "Dept. of Speculation"; Colm Toibin for his tale of an Irish widow, "Nora Webster"; Scottish writer Ali Smith for her dual-narrative novel "How to be Both"; and Canada-born British author Rachel Cusk for her story-spinning yarn "Outline."

Writer William Fiennes, who heads the judging panel, said all the finalists had stretched the possibilities of storytelling.

"It's easy to say something new and it's easy to say something true," he said. "But these books all say something true about human experience in a way that feels like something new."

The Folio Prize, which was established last year, and aims to rival the Booker Prize as the English-speaking world's most prestigious literary award. It is open to any English-language work of fiction published in Britain in the previous year, which led some to predict the prize would become U.S.-dominated.

Five of last year's finalists were American, including the winner, George Saunders, for the short-story collection "Tenth of December."

This year's list includes writers from four continents, five women and three men. Fiennes said the diversity was not by design — "agenda was excellence" — but it was still a relief.

"If it had turned out to be eight white men from Brooklyn, we'd have all felt a bit sheepish," he said.

The winner will be announced March 23 at a ceremony in London.


Online: http://www.thefolioprize.com

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