Dan Chaon, Writer
2002 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR LITERATURE
Dan Chaon’s short stories are luminous, polished, complete. Few novels can survive repeated readings, and almost no short stories (except perhaps the “household tales” of the Grimm brothers). Chaon’s delight again and again.
no short stories bring the literary recognition that Chaon has already
received. His work has been called “distinguished” by the editors of Best American Short Stories (1990, 1993, 1999) and The Pushcart Prize (1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000). Chaon’s stories have been republished in anthologies (Best American Short Stories 1996; O’Henry Prize Stories 2001; Pushcart Prize Stories 2000, 2002, 2003).
Among the Missing, published in the summer of 2001, was listed among that year’s “notable books” by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and then by the American Library Association in 2001. The Chicago Tribune and Entertainment Weekly included it among the “top ten books of fiction” for 2001, the Boston Globe
among the “top five books of fiction.” In the fall, it was one of five
finalists for the prestigious National Book Award, a rare short-story
entry in a competition dominated by the “more serious” genre of the
But Chaon’s short stories are serious inquiries into the experience of trying to figure out what things mean. Chaon’s protagonists in Among the Missing wonder especially about who’s
not there at the dinner table: the mother who disappeared from her
lakefront cottage soon after a family of vacationers was found drowned
in that lake; the children born as the result of a deposit made at a
hospital sperm bank; the brother who abandoned his wife and son, the
brother who was himself abandoned and whose own son is now leaving. It
is Chaon’s gift to speak in voices other than his own, in this case
particularly about the relationship of adults and children, including
ourselves to ourselves as future adults, former children.
in 1964, Chaon grew up in Sidney, Nebraska. He began writing in junior
high school and soon was sending stories to magazines—all rejected, but
at least once with kindness: “Try again when you get a little older.”
Chaon did. He majored in creative writing in college (B.A.,
Northwestern, 1986), enrolled in the writing program at Syracuse
University (M.F.A., 1990). He met and married his wife, the writer
Sheila Schwartz, and came with her when she was hired to teach at
Cleveland State University.
stayed home, looked after the children, worked at a variety of
part-time jobs around the Cleveland area. But writers write. His first
book of stories was published in 1996. He involved himself with CSU’s well-regarded Imagination Conference,
a weeklong series of summer workshops and lectures for writers and
would-be writers. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in
fiction and fiction writing at Ohio University, at CSU, and then at
Oberlin, first as visiting writer, now as assistant professor of
He continues to write and publish stories which continue to receive accolades. In the meantime, Ballantine, the publisher of Among the Missing, has reprinted his earlier collection, Fitting Ends and Other Stories, and has contracted for a novel, You Remind Me of Me.
—Henry D. Shapiro