Anchor Books The O. Henry Prize Stories
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About the Editor

2003

Over a year ago, when Anchor Books asked me to be the ninth series editor of The O. Henry Prize Stories, the job seemed a natural for me. I've always read and loved short stories. I'm a writer who's published novels and essays as well as three collections of stories. As founder and editor of American Short Fiction, I learned what it was to discover new writers; and the journal was admired enough to be a finalist for a National Magazine Award.

But as the work of selecting stories for the O. Henry collection got underway, it became clear that the position of series editor has a special gravity. There is the legacy of the many writers to whom the O. Henry prize has been so important to consider, as well as the care and integrity of previous series editors. There is also O. Henry himself, whose friends and admirers established the annual prize collection in 1918.

By coincidence, I live in Austin, Texas, where William Sydney Porter, known as O. Henry, was happiest. The modest house where he lived here with his wife and child is now a museum. His cottage is dwarfed by the convention center and the sounds of live music from Sixth Street rattle its windows at night, but Austin is still his town. He wasn't a native Texan (he was born in North Carolina), but Austin named a middle school for him and holds a pun-off each spring in his honor. Here, O. Henry sang with his church choir and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, married his love, became a father, and edited his own journal, The Rolling Stone. From here, he left for prison to serve a sentence for bank fraud. The writer who's often remembered more for his personal flaws than for his virtues is still honored in Austin.

In teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, it's always interesting to observe what my undergraduate and graduate students do and don't understand in a story. Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with a Dog" appears to some as opaque as slate, to others as clear as glass, but there's no doubt that if they return to it in one year or twenty, the story will be beautiful, insightful, and available in new ways.

With both a new and long-term reading experience of a story in mind, I've devised a few questions for candidates for the O. Henry collection: What is there? What is hidden? Can the story be reread many times, each time revealing some new aspect? How does it display the possibilities of the form? This year there were thousands of stories in hundreds of magazines--all stories written in English and published in North American periodicals--of which the questions were asked. Three excellent jurors--Jennifer Egan, David Guterson, and Diane Johnson--picked individual favorites from the twenty winners. It's fascinating to learn which story appealed to a particular juror and why; there's something romantic about the unpredictability of the pairing.

And so The O. Henry Prize Stories 2003 is ready to make its appearance in the world. The annual collection has always sought, in the words of Blanche Colton Williams, its first series editor, to "strengthen the art of the short story." The short story will prosper and develop through those who love it and through the health of its practitioners. My hope is that our annual will be a publishing event readers and writers look forward to, not so much to define aesthetic or thematic trends, but to read the highest quality and most beautiful stories of the year, and to meet writers they will read for years to come.

--Laura Furman
Austin, Texas
June 18, 2003

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(photo © Ave Bonar)