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A Minnesota novelist has won one of the world's richest literary prizes.

V.V. Ganeshananthan, an associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota since 2015, won the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction Monday night for her 2023 novel, "Brotherless Night." Star Tribune reviewer May-Lee Chai called the book, in which a young woman's family is ripped apart during the Sri Lankan Civil War, "a propulsive masterpiece."

Ganeshananthan — who first read Shields' work when she was a teenager — said the experience was "surreal." It was made more special by the fact that she and the other four semifinalists had a chance to meet the family and friends of the late Shields (whose novels include "The Stone Diaries") as well as the star-packed prize jury, which included novelists Laila Lailami and Claire Messud.

Ganeshananthan and fellow finalists Eleanor Catton ("Birnam Wood"), Claudia Dey ("Daughter"), Kim Coleman Foote ("Coleman Hill") and Janika Oza ("A History of Burning") spent a couple days together in Toronto before the presentation. The two-year-old award is presented to a female or non-binary writer in the U.S. or Canada in memory of Shields, a fierce advocate for women.

"Women and non-binary folks are certainly not winning a proportionate number of prizes," noted Ganeshananthan, who intends her work to be "explicitly feminist" (her first novel was "Love Marriage").

The professor said she didn't expect to win, so hadn't prepared her 2-minute acceptance speech until "someone I was talking to the night before [the award was presented] said, 'You should really write something down,' and I said, 'I think that's a bad idea.'"

Ganeshananthan, 44, dashed something off, then focused on enjoying time with her fellow writers, which may be why she said, "I'm still a little, 'Really?' And I may feel that way for a while."

Adding to the surreal aspect might be the high profile — and the dollar amount — of the prize. Ganeshananthan has just begun to think about the "respect and care and heft" that come with it.

"I've been fortunate to have a secure job, teaching creative writing to amazing students, and to work with brilliant colleagues. Not all writers have that or want that. But that's quite a bit of privilege," said Ganeshananthan.

She said she's considering a couple ideas for "Brotherless Night" follow-ups. While she's working on that, the writer — who also co-hosts Lithub's "Fiction/Non/Fiction" podcast and is on the boards of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies and the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop — will have the summer and beyond to decide what's next.

"What everyone wants is more time to write," she said. "The idea that this could go to partly supporting that is encouraging and a stroke of luck."