Established in 2011, the biennial award is given to a major American author who has created a body of critically acclaimed work and who has — in the tradition of creative writing at Oregon State University — mentored young writers.
Best known for writing short stories and memoirs that explore issues of morality, Wolff said he was “surprised and delighted” when he learned that he won the award.
“In a remarkable arc across the novel, the memoir and the short story” Wolff has “shown a care for craft and a superbly developed moral vision that is unusual and exemplary in contemporary writing,” said EAVAN BOLAND, director of Stanford’s Creative Writing Program.
Boland, a poet and professor of English, called Wolff “an extraordinarily generous teacher and mentor” and added that she “couldn’t imagine another writer who could be more deserving of a lifetime achievement award than Tobias Wolff.”
Wolff’s publications have earned a number of awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Story Prize.
The $20,000 Stone Award — one of the largest prizes of its kind given by an American university — was first given in 2012 to novelist Joyce Carol Oates, and Wolff said he was honored to be in the company of a writer he so greatly admires.
Wolff, who has been teaching classes in English and creative writing at Stanford since 1997, acknowledged the award’s emphasis on mentoring, but noted that although he gets a “paternal flush of pride” when his students’ works are published, they are the ones who deserve the credit.
“I may encourage them in their strengths, help make them better aware of elements in their writing that need more attention and generally become better editors of their own work,” Wolff said. But, he added, “nothing happens if the writers themselves don’t bring their commitment, talent and hard work to the table, day after day.”
Wolff chronicled his early life in two memoirs, In Pharaoh’s Army (1994) and This Boy’s Life (1989), which was turned into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. His first short story collection, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, was published in 1981. In addition to four short story collections, Wolff is the author of the novels The Barracks Thief (1984) and Old School (2003).
Wolff will be presented with the Stone Award at the Portland Art Museum on May 21, and will visit the Oregon State campus in Corvallis to give a public reading.
—CORRIE GOLDMAN, The Humanities at Stanford