by Richard Lea)
Twenty years after Kurt Cobain killed himself in Seattle, a short story called Nirvana featuring a ghostly performance from the singer of a line from the despairing refrain of his 1991 hit Smells Like Teen Spirit has won the Sunday Times short story competition.
The winning author Adam Johnson adds the world's richest prize for a single short story to the Pulitzer prize he won in 2013 for his novel, The Orphan Master's Son.
Inspired by his wife's struggle with cancer and a friend who took his own life, Johnson matches the dark anguish of Cobain's band Nirvana's breakthrough track with a story of a woman confined to her bed by an auto-immune disease and a man struggling to come to terms with his fears that she might kill herself.
Speaking before the announcement of the £30,000 award, Johnson described how he "began asking questions about what our duty is to dying people and the departed, where they go, what remains and how we speak to them and share what they go through."
Johnson sets his story in a bleak near future of hovering drones and voice-activated beds after the assassination of an American president – a president seemingly brought back to life for millions using video projections controlled by an algorithm designed by the story's protagonist.
According to John Carey, one of the judges on this year's panel, Nirvana is "a mind-expanding, futurist story … about redemption". Fellow judge David Baddiel hailed the story as "both sad and … funny. Plus it proves that genre fiction – the story is, at heart, science fiction … can work, emotionally and artistically, at the highest levels."
Johnson joins a list of winners which includes fellow Pulitzer-winner Junot Díaz, the Irish writer Kevin Barry and the New Zealand novelist CK Stead, who won the inaugural award in 2010.