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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 Mary Carroll-Hackett
O. Henry Recommended Story Author

"Placing" combines some of the most important aspects of my childhood: being raised Catholic, being raised Southern and books. My family struggled financially but my parents brought everything they had to us kids in terms of "feeding" us in the ways they thought important. But more important to the emotion of the story roots in this kind of needing to leave I think I was born with, a looking for something "out there." Like a lot of my friends and I talk about now, we didn't know we were poor until we were older; we ate from the garden, belted out hymns at church and made trips to what seemed like the most magical place in the world: the library. But I was always imagining somewhere else. My parents recognized this in me.

A bowl of apples on my kitchen table brought all of that back. How almost foreign they were, so perfectly red, and how my son snatched one up from that bowl as he ran past out the back door into the yard, brought back the pleasures of that time. But it also brought back a hard longing, but more sweet than sad, for how wide the world seemed. My story started with the apples, but I had no idea that it would take me to an almost-forgotten, almost sacred-feeling memory.

Alimentum is one of my favorite journals, exploring the complex roles that food can have in literature and in culture. Food is so central to being raised in the South that I completely loved finding a journal that explored those connections, and I'm honored and thrilled that this story was chosen, both by Alimentum and to be recommended by the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories.

(author photo © J. Hackett)


Excerpt

From "Placing," an O. Henry Recommended Story

Some nights she is so tired it is hard to continue. And though she knows it is only the patch of darkness grafted on her heart, she can't find a place safe or still enough to stand in, the circle of light that held the mice in her favorite children's book eluding her as it eluded Cheerful, the one with the white feet who wanted to live in the country. So she puts the book, still open, aside, pads through the winter silence in her house and prepares for the day to come. There are four posts around my bed, there are four angels 'bout my head, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed I lie on. The church mice sang The White Paternoster as they played hide and seek in the vestry. And everybody was happy but Cheerful, who stood in the pool of green cast through the stained glass, imagining meadows. And even then she too wanted to be elsewhere. And even then her father recognized something, buying the book for her after they'd checked it out of the Hatteras Public Library ten times. He pulled the book from inside his coat, from where he had protected it against the sudden but expected July rain just beyond the door, and handed it to her. Putting words and travel in her hand, though they already lived in the country.



("Placing" by Mary Carroll-Hackett first appeared in Alimentum. Copyright © by Mary Carroll-Hackett. Excerpted by permission of the author.)



About the Author

Mary Carroll-Hackett's work has appeared in Alimentum, Carolina Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, and Reed, among others. She directs Creative Writing at Longwood University in Farmville, VA.


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