Acclaimed short story author Lydia Davis, winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize, will speak at Rensselaer on April 16 as part of the annual McKinney Writing Contest awards ceremony.

The annual contest and ceremony is co-sponsored by the Department of Communication and Media and the New York State Writers Institute. The contest honors student work in several categories: fiction/drama, poetry, essay, and electronic media. First, second, and third prizes are awarded to outstanding submissions in both the graduate and undergraduate divisions. In addition to presenting these awards, Davis will read from her work and respond to questions from the audience.

Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

The McKinney Writing Contest was established in 1941 by Samuel McKinney, who graduated from Rensselaer in 1884, in memory of his wife, Mary Earl McKinney. The contest is designed to encourage communication skills among students and promote the liberal arts.

“The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is proud to keep alive the tradition of the McKinney Writing Contest at Rensselaer. Both the contest and the talk by Lydia Davis are valuable ways for the Rensselaer community to celebrate literature,” said Mary Simoni, dean.

In addition to the McKinney Fund, the contest receives support from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Vollmer Fries Lecture Fund; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Rensselaer Union; Friends of the Folsom Library; Department of Communication and Media; the New York State Writers Institute; and the literary organization Poets & Writers.

Davis, a faculty member at the University at Albany, received a $500,000 fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation in 2003. The New Yorker described her body of work, consisting mainly of her signature “extremely short short stories” as “probably unique in American writing, in its combination of lucidity, aphoristic brevity, formal originality, sly comedy, metaphysical bleakness, philosophical pressure, and human wisdom.”

Davis’s most recent collection, Can’t and Won’t: Stories, features stories in miniature—complaint letters, reflections on dreams, and small dilemmas. Her 2009 volume, The Collected Stories, is a compilation of pieces from four previously published collections including Varieties of Disturbance (2007), Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001), Almost No Memory (1997), and Break it Down (1986).

Davis is a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and is highly respected for her work translating literary fiction by Proust and Flaubert from French into English.