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 Dagoberto Gilb
"Uncle Rock"
2012 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

So beyond nice for what you do to be specifically and historically alongside those you admire. I published my first story decades ago in Puerto del Sol, and a lot since then. Though it is still true that when I get the volume, I consume all the pages that day with my three daily meals, when I started as a writer, this anthology (and the others like it) I'd check out of the library to the limit. I wanted to know, so much, how it was done, what stories could say or do, and this mattered to me more than the job I had, or the one I needed to find. Now, the years passing, etc., I no longer think of me as "me" but as a metaphor for Mexican American writers. Two years ago Manuel Muñoz was the first from the community to finally appear in the anthology's pages. That was pleasing for me to see, and I can only hope his is the first of many to come. Of course I am pleased for me too, but clearly, after so many years and publications, it is as much a relief that I wasn't doing something wrong (something else wrong, I am conditioned to say!). Finally, as someone who feels like the very last American writer who came up in the sweaty working world, there is no little satisfaction. I still feel a defensive demand to tell people I was a union carpenter, in the trades for sixteen years, raising a family. They either stare at me blank, no idea of what it means to begin work in construction pits that go high, tower cranes above swinging loads, or they imagine a fuzzy clean carpenter's bag, glossy six-penny finish nails for shelving. Work like that seems unknown in these times, so now I've became as proud of it as I am the work that is printed here. I hope that in the libraries of the future, actual or virtual, young people with ordinary jobs will see what I'm saying and hear me tell them that they too have stories.

(author photo © Jean-Luc Bertini)

Writing Tips

Novels are movies, fast sequences of framed shots, and the concentration is on the movement between them, from one frame to the next, faster and faster, and the illusion might even be to create stillness, but the aim is always that large statement, sometimes epic. Short fiction is closer to one frame in a movie, or better an oil painting, every corner and shadow teased and dabbled on, and the illusion may be movement, but it's a single image, or wonder, brought myopically close. I love short fiction like I love, say, a Cézanne.

About the Author

Dagoberto Gilb was born and raised in Los Angeles, and then spent as much time in El Paso. He is the author of seven previous books, most recently Before the End, After the Beginning, as well as The Flowers, Gritos, Woodcuts of Women, The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, and The Magic of Blood. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Threepenny Review, Callaloo, and many others. His work won the PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and National Books Critics Circle Award. He lives in Austin.

Writer's Desk

I don't like talking too much about work not finished, but I'm on a novel, a main character named Montez.

Writing Tips

From "Uncle Rock" by Dagoberto Gilb

When his mom was working as a restaurant hostess, and was going to marry the owner, Erick ate hot-fudge sundaes and drank chocolate shakes. When she worked at a trucking company, the owner of all the trucks told her he was getting a divorce. Erick climbed into the rigs, with their rooms full of dials and levers in the sky. Then she started working in an engineer's office. There was no food or fun there, but even he could see the money. He was not supposed to touch anything, but what was there to touch—the tubes full of paper? He and his mom were invited to the engineer's house, where he had two horses and a stable, a swimming pool, and two convertible sports cars. The engineer's family was there: his grown children, his gray-haired parents. They all sat down for dinner in a dining room that seemed bigger than Erick's apartment, with three candelabras on the table, and a tablecloth and cloth napkins. Erick's mom took him aside to tell him to be well mannered at the table and polite to everyone. Erick hadn't said anything. He never spoke anyway, so how could he have said anything wrong? She leaned into his ear and said that she wanted them to know that he spoke English. That whole dinner he was silent, chewing quietly, taking the smallest bites, because he didn't want them to think he liked their food.

Writer's Desk

Browse our archive of featured authors from this and other editions of The O. Henry Prize Stories.

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