Celebrated U.S. author Steven Millhauser won the eighth annual Story Prize for short fiction on Wednesday for We Others, his collection of 21 pieces written over the course of three decades.
Millhauser, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997 for "Martin Dressler: The Life and Times of an American Dreamer," was honored for the collection, published by Alfred A. Knopf, which like much of his work deals with strange happenings in seemingly ordinary environs.
"I am really surprised," Millhauser said after winning.
"I came to applaud Edith Pearlman or Don DeLillo," said Millhauser, a resident of upstate New York and teacher at Skidmore College, referring to his fellow nominees.
He added that he "feared that such a book would only be a tombstone," adding, "I love and revere this form."
Millhauser won a $20,000 prize for "We Others," which includes one of his best-known stories, "Eisenheim the Illusionist", about a late 19th-century magician in Vienna, which was made into the 2006 film "The Illusionist."
He was philosophical about that venture, saying "I knew in advance ... it was not going to reflect my story, and I accepted that."
Other stories variously set in a current-day Connecticut town, Thomas Edison's laboratory, circuses, carnivals or strange museums, often traffic in the fantastic and mystical.
Millhauser's work has also hewed heavily to historic fiction, and the judges noted that his stories evoke those of Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka and H.P. Lovecraft in their explorations of other realms which are nonetheless rendered utterly believable.
"I follow different paths in my imagination, and that pleases me," Millhauser said about his creative process.
The other finalists for the prestigious award included National Book Award winner DeLillo, for "The Angel Esmeralda," and Pearlman for "Binocular Vision," which was also a National Book Award finalist for fiction.
The finalists, all of whom read excerpts and discussed their work on Wednesday, were chosen from a list of 92 entrants.
The judges were Seattle author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, professor and former Indiana University library director Breon Mitchell, and author and Los Angeles Public Library curator Louise Steinman.