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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 Damon Galgut
2010 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

(author photo courtesy of the author)

Writing Tips

One of the questions writers bump up against in their work, whether they know it or not, is about lying. Because fiction is a form of deceit and one's abilities are measured by how convincingly one can persuade readers that these events really happened. It was a relief, then, to find myself sitting down to recount certain events in my life that were true. This story is one of three that deal with a journey I made at a particular point, each of them centered on myself and one other person. The relationship at the heart of each story, and the way it changed, was as much a part of the theme as the journey itself. Another element, and maybe the key one, was memory itself. By the time I sat down to write about these events, several years had gone by and I could no longer recall everything with clarity. The straining to remember became as much a part of the story as the details of the journey and at a certain point it struck me that all memory is fiction. Hence the switch between first and third person, because in memory one is both a 'he' and an 'I' and at some moments even an 'it'. It's been unsettling to discover that every form of narrative, even one that purports to tell the truth, is a kind of lying.

The journey involved was, of course, not just the physical one. It was my project in writing to tell the truth as honestly as I could recall it, about everybody's behavior, including my own, and not to let anybody off the hook. The result is something that includes fiction and memoir, travel narrative and confession, but doesn't fit comfortably into any one of those genres. Perhaps for that reason, it was impossible to find a home for these pieces for about 10 years, until The Paris Review took them. To have been included in the PEN/O.Henry Prize stories feels like further validation.

About the Author

Damon Galgut was born in 1963 in Pretoria, South Africa. His first novel, A Sinless Season, appeared when he was seventeen years old. For several years he studied and taught drama at the University of Cape Town. His books include Small Circle of Beings, The Beautiful Screamings of Pigs, and The Quarry, which was made into a feature film in 1998. His novel, The Good Doctor, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Dublin IMPAC Award, and won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Africa region. His latest novel, The Imposter, appeared in 2008. Galgut lives in Cape Town.

Writer's Desk

  • This story is one of three that will be published together under the title, In A Strange Room. I am meanwhile in the throes of starting a new novel.

  • Writer's Desk

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