NEA Literature Fellowships

Daniel Mason

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(2014 - Prose)

Excerpt from "Death of the Pugilist"

The ascent of Burke, including:  the Riots.  Also:  his early career and its vicissitudes.

At age nineteen, Burke became known. 

On the quay was a man named Sam Jones and Sam Jones was a stevedore too, lifting with Burke from dark hour to dark hour.  Sam Jones was an old man of forty when one morning his foot punched a rotted board on the dock and he went down beneath a load of flounder, one hundred and fifty pounds of fish in an oak-slatted crate that snapped his neck against the railing before he slumped, slipped, limp into the sea.

Sam Jones had a month’s wages coming, but the Company didn’t pay his widow, and on the docks, the stevedores sat down and not a boat could move.  Then the owners sent out their thugs, who fell on the men with clubs and iron pokers, and from the melee exploded the Quayside Riots, of fame. 

It was a newspaperman from London who first saw Burke throw a punch.  When the riots were over (and Jones’ wages still not paid) the newspaperman found the boy back at work, resigned, murmuring a sad low lifter’s song as he threaded the pier.

Daniel Mason is the author of two novels, The Piano Tuner (2002) and A Far Country (2007), as well as several works of short fiction, most recently, “The Miraculous Discovery of Psammetichus I” and “The Second Doctor Service” (Harper’s, 2011 and 2014). His nonfiction has focused on the roots of medical and psychiatric practice, including the history of pica and the magical origins of psychiatry. He is currently a resident in psychiatry at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics, and is at work on a collection of short stories on epiphany.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Mason

Author's Statement

I am extraordinarily grateful for the generosity of the NEA, and honored to be part of this group of fellows. Since 2006, I have been slowly at work on a series of short stories thematically linked through their examination of individuals in the throes of crisis or enlightenment. For some reason, when I think of the collection, I have found myself returning to the image of a ship, set to embark, awaiting as each passenger materializes from the mist and boards. It is hard, as others fellows have similarly written, to maintain patience and purpose in the long hours of working alone—to keep the ship docked and steady. I cannot understate what a great sense of support and encouragement came with this fellowship, and the community of other artists who have received it, both this year, prior years, and in years to come.