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 William Gass
O. Henry Award-winning Author

I'm not sure what inclusion in the O. Henry Prize Stories means, not having been included before. At eighty-three years old such things no longer have the same value that they might have had at twenty-eight. The prize has a long and distinguished history, so it is of course a very nice thing to have received.

Writing Tips

A sentence has not yet reached the page when it is altered in the head several times. You don't begin by blurting. Then it is scarcely completed before the changes begin--over and over again. Maybe a sentence existed that it was to precede or follow and that sentence is changed, which means more adjustments down the line. You are looking not only for the right word but the right form--the right form for the sentence, the paragraph, the piece.

Eventually, if you are lucky, you may find what you mean. And be surprised by it. And then you realize you have used the word mean far too many times. Begin again.

The intensity and compactness of the short story has more than those merits. It allows you to avoid many of the problems of the novel. One such problem is the sheer time it takes to write one. During that time you are likely to change, yet the author who begins any book should be the author who ends it. For the short story that is possible. Any long project may wear out one's interest in it.

The short story permits that interest to be sustained. Novels ought to be as well-written as stories. Working on stories reminds you of that. They may be shorter but they aren't any easier.

I wanted to turn a lecture into a story. Expository form would interact with narrative form. Technical issues are usually the genesis of my work. And having taught for fifty years, the material was at hand.

About the Author

William H. Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He is the emeritus David May University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. He has published two volumes of short stories, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Cartesian Sonata, three novels, and numerous volumes of critical essays including Reading Rilke and On Being Blue. His most recent collection, A Temple of Texts, won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. William H. Gass lives in St. Louis.

Writer's Desk

  • I am working on a novel that grew out of a novella that escaped its cage and ran away. It is about a teacher in a small college who has got his position with dishonest documents and kept his position by his wits and the dim wits of his colleagues. He is a teacher of music and the book is titled Middle C. Its chief character strives to be average. I think he succeeds. My short story is a spin off.

  • Writer's Desk

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