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 Lauren Groff
2012 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

When any story is published in a journal, it is a victory for the form. A writer doesn't write a short story for money (payment is usually in copies), or for glory (I'd bet there are only a few thousand serious readers of short fiction in this country). A story is written because it has to be written, because the pressure becomes unbearably urgent for it to come into the world. And because of the impassioned but small readership, there aren't so many venues for stories to be published; the competition as a result is overwhelmingly fierce. For a story to be subsequently anthologized is damn-near miraculous. And because O. Henry was the first short story writer I was ever fully steeped in—I picked up a silverfishy collection of his books at a library sale when I was ten or so, and read the books multiple times, cover to cover—this particular anthology is a giant fiesta for me every year, and I'm deeply moved to be included in it. I sometimes wonder if the stories feel the same way; if when the lights are out and the readers snoring in the next room, the stories themselves pull a Velveteen Rabbit and bring out the disco ball and the thumping music and have a grand old party between the covers, just to celebrate the thrill of their own existence in the anthology. If so, my story will bring the wine.

(author photo © Sarah McKune)

Writing Tips

In the end, a writer has to maintain a very fine calibration between life and writing, passion and hard work, reading and writing, the mind and the heart, loving the world and shutting it out, and caring about the reception of your work and not giving a hoot. I get unbalanced every single day of my life. But it's fine to get unbalanced, I think. The main thing is just to commit at all times with everything you've got, keeping nothing in reserve, and trying with all the earnestness and goodwill you have to get the balance right.

About the Author

Lauren Groff was born in Cooperstown, New York, in 1978. She is the author of the novel The Monsters of Templeton and the story collection Delicate Edible Birds. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and Ploughshares, among other publications, and has been anthologized in the Pushcart Prize anthology and two editions of Best American Short Stories. Her second novel, Arcadia, was published in March 2012. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.

Writer's Desk

I'm far too superstitious to tell about work in progress.

Writing Tips

From "Eyewall" by Lauren Groff

My best laying hen was scraped from under the house and slid in a horrifying diagonal across the window. For a moment, we were eye to lizardy eye. I took a breath. The glass fogged, and when it cleared, my hen had blown away. Then the top layer of the lake seemed to rise in one great sheet and crush itself against the house. When the wind wept the water into the road, my garden became a pit in which a gar twisted and a baby alligator dug furiously into the mud. From behind the flattened blueberries, a nightmare creature of mud stood and leaned against the wind. It showed itself to be a man only moments before the wind picked him up and slammed him into the door. I didn't think before I ran and heaved it open so that the man tumbled in. I was blown off my feet, and had to clutch the doorknob to keep from flying. The wind seized a flowerpot and smashed it through the microwave. The man crawled and helped me push the door until at last it closed and the storm was banished, howling to find itself outside again.

Writer's Desk

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

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