Anchor Books The O. Henry Prize Stories
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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 authors of the winning and recommended stories free rein to share their thoughts on these questions and others, and the result is a rare treat.

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Comments Natalie Bakopoulos
2010 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

I was thrilled and honored to be included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. I was a reader of the anthology before I began writing stories of my own, and it's humbling to be included among such wonderful writers.

(author photo © Jeremiah Chamberlin)

Writing Tips

Nothing makes me feel more vulnerable than writing. It's when I feel unstructured, like I've been zipped open, my viscera pink and exposed; it's also when I feel the most attentive. A friend told me, after her first novel had come out, that she was shocked to walk into a bookshop and see stacks of her book on a front table, people milling around them, picking up copies, reading the jacket or perhaps opening to a random page. She likened it to having her entire underwear drawer or medicine cabinet on display. I imagined people holding up her bras, commenting on the size, peering into bottles and reading labels and trying on lotions, placing pairs of underwear on their heads and laughing. It sounded to me like a bad dream, but also wildly, strangely appealing. It is an excruciating, agonizing business, writing: an intensely private act that turns shockingly public.

To imagine the thoughts and actions of someone other than ourselves, however banal or repugnant or strange, is still to imagine them, and this is inherently frightening. Writing is an utmost expression of empathy. It's the reason, at the end of a long day with our characters, we feel as if we've been kicked in the face.

I think that much great fiction, and much great art, is motivated by fear. Fear, after all, forces people to act, or to not act; it can motivate or stun into submission; it can illuminate better or worse versions of ourselves. This is why I write: To make sense of the world, to create characters who say and do things I can't, or won't, and to live the life for which I was too scared or too poor or too in love or too fortunate or simply too different.

About the Author

Natalie Bakopoulos was born in 1972 in Dearborn, MI. She received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Michigan. An early draft of her novel-in-progress won an Avery and Jule Hopwood Award and a Platsis Prize for Work on the Greek Legacy, both administered through the University of Michigan. Her short fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter and Tin House. Bakopoulos lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm currently finishing my first novel, tentatively titled The Green Shore, which is set primarily in Athens between 1967 and 1974. I'm working on several essays about the time I spent in Greece in the early summer of 2009, as well as some short stories. Right now, it seems my artistic imagination resides in Athens and its environs, and so I'm not fighting the impulse to linger there awhile. After all, it's a beautiful place.

  • Writer's Desk

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