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 Chanelle Benz
"West of the Known"
2014 O. Henry Award-winning Author

I love that The O. Henry Prize Stories recognizes and honors the mastery and mechanics of the short story form. It's a thrill and privilege to be included among so many great writers and their exceptional stories. I feel very lucky.

(author photo © Christine Jean Chambers)

About the Author

For me, each story arrives with its own set of challenges. Quite often, after I've painted myself into a corner, I think: Oh, this is my hardest/biggest/trickiest problem story, I've never had to deal with X before. But I've come to realize that I think this with every draft, and this "problem" has come to be a pleasure. Now I try to make sure I'm doing at least one thing I've never done before. So that each time I set out to write a story, I give myself rules or a container—essentially something to push against.

But fortunately or unfortunately, I am a rule bender. As an ex-actor, either I've never fully understood the rules of fiction as rules, or I manage to convince myself of the justice of whatever exception I'm about to make. It reminds me of when I played the villain Vassilisa in a production of Gorky's The Lower Depths and I complained to the director how hard a scene was and she shouted back: Why does it have to be easy? I suddenly realized that a character is quite literally a puzzle and there's a pleasure in the challenge of finding how the pieces fit together.

Author's Desk

I'm shifting between redrafting a short story based in the Ozarks during the 30s featuring a haunted hotel, grief, and a very dapper quack; writing the beginning of a novel set in London in 1928, then during the Blitz in 1941; and lastly, slowly revising a short story set in present-day Mississippi about a local man and his brand-new teenage daughter.

About the Author

Chanelle Benz was born in London, England, and grew up in Virginia. She has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and a B.F.A. in Acting from Boston University. Her work has appeared in Fence, Staccato, and The Cupboard. "West of the Known" was named as one of the Top 10 Longreads of 2012. She lives in Mississippi.

Writer's Desk

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