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 Karen Brown
O. Henry Award-winning Author

Years ago one of my professors, a poet who remains a friend and mentor, cleaned out his office. This was in anticipation of his retirement, and the books, old review copies, ended up on my own bookshelf. Of these were two O. Henry anthologies—1972 and 1973. As a beginning writer I read these avidly, and returning to them now I rediscover writers whose work I've long been in awe of—John Cheever, James Salter, Bernard Malamud, Raymond Carver. Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Adams appear both years, and I remember imagining the world of short-story writers, and then daring to imagine myself among them. Many years, and many editions, of the O. Henry Prize Stories later, I am honored and humbled by my own second appearance in this much-respected anthology.

(author photo © Bobby Baisden)

Writing Tips

The short story has always been, for me, a sort of small miracle. I carry an idea around without really knowing it is there. Sometimes, it is just a memory of a place, or an odd experience I had as a child—hiding in the woods, dumping packets of Easy Bake Oven recipes into a small red wagon, and adding water, stirring the whole thing with a stick. The oddness, the hazy quality of a past event, all contributes to its mystery. At some point I divert from what I remember. It is spring and the forsythia waves its bright arms. Beyond the woods is a neighborhood of Capes and Colonials. The man who delivers heating oil lives across the street. The town green with its drummer-boy statue is within walking distance, as are the train tracks and the Farmer's Exchange. The local drunk wobbles on his bike, and stops at houses to ask for work. Florence Lord, with her reckless-looking hairdo, drives the only cab. The house on the corner of Mills Road will soon cave in on itself, and swallow up its plaque announcing its former owner, a local historical figure. In the evening, the Tunxis Players perform "A Guest in the House" in the elementary school auditorium. Somewhere in this place is the story I will tell, and the person who will tell it. I will roam around a while until I find it, compelled by the memory to visit this town of my childhood—a place shaped by stories and memories of stories. The most difficult part of the process is the need to give shape to something elusive. This is the real work, and sometimes, frustratingly, it is never quite right. When the merging of the elements occurs, though, it often seems as if it is happening without me. This is the thing that keeps me amazed, and writing.

About the Author

Karen Brown was born in 1960 and grew up in Connecticut. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and in journals that include The Georgia Review, Epoch, and American Short Fiction. Her first collection, Pins and Needles, won the Associated Writing Program's Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. She teaches at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, where she lives.

Writer's Desk

  • I have recently completed a novel, one that absorbed me for a long time, and I am happy to return to stories. I am revising a collection of them now, set in a small Connecticut town.

  • Writer's Desk

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