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What does it mean to be included in the O. Henry Prize Stories? How does an author refine their art? We've given the O. Henry Prize-winning authors free rein to share their thoughts on these questions and others, and the result is a rare treat.

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Comments Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Two-Time O. Henry Award-winning Author: 2003, 2010

From 2010:
I've always read and admired the O. Henry Prize stories and think it's lovely to be included, and for the second time, too.

From 2003:
I was back home in Nigeria to spend Christmas with my father. I spent my days writing, nursing nostalgia and laughing with him. Every other day, I would sign onto the Internet to check e-mail and keep up with the postings from my writing group in the United States. My last question for them had been: "O. Henry or Best American Short Stories?" A strikingly unoriginal question, for sure. Anyway, most of my writing friends chose O. Henry because they felt the collection was deeper and more diverse. I admire both collections, but I chose O. Henry as well. I mentioned recent stories I loved, by Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwidge Danticat and Fred G Leebron. I thought to myself, "It would be great to be in O. Henry someday."

December rolled past, and January came with dusty harmattan winds and thunderstorms that crashed trees. After a particularly angry storm, our phone line went dead, which meant I had to go to a cyber café in town to use the Internet. There, I read the e-mail whose subject was "O. Henry Awards 2003." It was from Laura Furman, graciously written, with the news that my story would be included in the 2003 collection. I threw a fist in the air. I laughed, tried to explain to the stranger next to me that my story would be included in a prestigious collection. He looked bored. Then he asked where it would be published. In America, I told him. "America?" he asked, and for the first time, he looked impressed. He reminded me of my story, "American Embassy." He could have been the man standing in line, accepting so many humiliations. Just to get a chance at America.

(author photo © Beowulf Sheehan/ PEN American Center)


Writing Tips

Writing should speak to you, should make you feel fulfilled even when it doesn't end up being published. That said, my first rejection was difficult because I took it personally. I would not have reacted this way if I had known what I know now--that choosing to write is a package and that rejection comes with the package.

If it is possible, write first and then think about where to publish your work afterward. I started writing stories with a target in mind, trying to get them to fit what I imagined particular journals wanted, but when I sent them out, they were all rejected. I know now that most of these stories were forced, contrived fiction. When I simply started to write what felt true, my stories received nicer rejections and then, soon enough, some acceptances.

Write and keep writing. Don't feel compelled to churn out many pieces. One good, solid story is better than three watery ones. I don't have a writing schedule. I write when I get the urge, but I do keep in touch with my work every day by revising or re-reading. And reading is just as important. I try to support the people who have reached there before me. First novels and collections would do considerably better if all aspiring novelists bought one first novel.


About the Author

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is a 2008 MacArthur Foundation fellow. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Prize. Her work has been translated into thirty languages. She divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.




Writer's Desk

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