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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 George Bradley
2010 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

It's the more welcome for being unexpected. John Ashbery has a line somewhere to the effect: "We all like a little attention, but the absence thereof won't make the crops wither." OK, they don't wither; but sometimes they can look a little peeked. The PEN/O.Henry inclusion is as a fine soft rain.

Also, most of my time as a writer has been devoted to poetry, and prose fiction is a medium I've turned to only recently. It's rewarding to know that others more accomplished in the field have found my efforts of value.

(author photo © Jody Dole)

Writing Tips

"An East Egg Update" was occasioned by the confluence of memory and hearsay, as I think most art is. The setting is one I recall from my youth, but the central event is someone else's remembered pain. An acquaintance told me that his sole recollection of his mother was a slap in the face, and the story started there. It started there, and I made it end there, but the body of it is a fabrication . . . not that all its readers have been happy to believe as much.

People who ought to know better (some screenwriters and movie directors, now and then a novelist, even the occasional poet) have endorsed the myth that art depends immediately on circumstance, that the artist is a stenographer to accident, that life takes place and the author's job is to jot down what occurred. Call it the Shakespeare in Love fallacy. But to make a fiction, one composes, i.e. combines and arranges elements of invention: a tale heard or overheard, a few troublesome or merely persistent memories, a harbored wish, an encountered name, a bit of pure fantasy. And then one looks at the result and sort of kicks it all in the direction of art.

"An East Egg Update" is not, then, a "true story." I don't believe there are any such things—all our experience comes mediated by the quality of our perceptions, our cast of mind—and if there were, I don't believe they would be inherently worth any more than the narrative of our ideas.

About the Author

George Bradley was born in 1953 in Roslyn, NY. His volumes of poetry are Terms to Be Met, Of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, The Fire Fetched Down, and Some Assembly Required, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New Republic, and elsewhere. He was the Yale Younger Poet for 1985, and is editor of The Yale Younger Poets Anthology. He lives in Chester, CT.

Writer's Desk

  • What am I working on at the moment? I have a volume of poems pretty much ready to go, though I keep adding, tinkering, revising. It's called A Few of Her Secrets, and I suppose the "her" might be the muse, or at least one notion of the impulse to art.

    I'm also close to finished with a collection of short stories—I've got enough of them to make a book right now, but I want to add one or two more. The stories treat of many things—male menopause, the culture of old money WASPs (yes, they have one), the juxtapositions of race and class-but above all they have turned out to be about the enormous impact that sex has on us at various stages in life. The resulting collection appears to be called Why Henry Is Called Hitler. It's not nice that people make casual metaphors out of genocidal maniacs, but they do. And as long as people keep doing something, writers will write about it.

  • Writer's Desk

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