2019 Maurice Prize for Fiction:
Peter Shahrokh (English, M.A. ’75; Ph.D. ’83; MBA ’99)
I started my winning novel, A Wind Will Come, 30 years ago. The premise was that a professional engineer had chosen to become a chef, and he was then lured by the promise of owning his own restaurant by an ex-girlfriend if he found her lost lover. The lover was a psychopath, and that made things a little interesting. After I’d done the first two chapters, I couldn’t figure out where I was going with it. Ten years later I picked it up again and finished the last three chapters. It then languished as a Word document that migrated onto the hard drives of the successive computers I’ve owned. On a whim, I threw it into the ring for the Maurice Prize this year, and to my great surprise it won.
For the last 15 years, I have written very little. I turned to watercolors for my creative expression. They kept getting better, and through my website (petershahrokh.com), I began writing newsletters when I finished paintings I wanted to share. I developed a new writing style that was more succinct and could tell stories in a couple of paragraphs instead of pages. My subscribers gradually began telling me that, while they liked my paintings, they were more moved by my prose.
Winning the Maurice Prize jarred my focus; suddenly I was in the “writing” game again. But then I had to face the unsustainable premise of a novel started 30 years ago. As I tried to edit it for possible publication, I realized I was only putting Band-Aids on it.
I think I’m the oldest winner of the prize, and now as a senior person, I celebrate the things that keep me young at heart and allow me to keep moving forward. I don’t like to hear criticism, but I’m of a mind now to learn from it.
John Lescroart, the sponsor of the prize that honors the memory of his father, suggested I take two characters from the novel and put them on a different stage to act their parts. When I write, I simply watch and listen to my characters go at it, and I then do my best to record what they say and do. They have shown themselves to be much more interesting now.
The Maurice Prize was a gift to me. Rather than make me ruminate about something in my past, it’s been an opportunity to progress toward something closer to who I’ve become. And thus I move on.