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 Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum
PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

I am, as I think any writer would be, honored to have my story included in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories anthology. As a reader, I'm a devotee of the short story form, and so it is a particular thrill to be part of a book that recognizes good work in short fiction--a book that each year reminds readers that the short story is still very much alive and thriving. I'm completely grateful and delighted to have my story selected.

(author photo © Nathan Lunstrum)

Writing Tips

I used to be a very meticulous first-draft writer, reading and re-reading each sentence before moving on to the next. It was tedious work a lot of the time, and it meant that my first drafts were often driven by perfectionism rather than joy. My writing habits have shifted over time, though, and now I find myself much more lenient with a first draft. A less than sharp sentence will be retooled in revision, anyway, I've realized, and if I'm not so hyper-focused on avoiding mistakes, I'm freer to take risks.

This change is in part simply a side effect of becoming a mother--an event that shook my writing life in every possible way a little over two years ago. (Who has time to be particular when the babysitter's on the clock?) But I think it's also a sign that I'm beginning to understand the process of story-building as it works for me. I now know that I really need to enter the first draft fairly blind, without much more than an intuitive sense of the story, if I am to keep myself interested.

First drafts are about the fear and the discovery, I now think. The perfectionist in me can be un-leashed when it's time to revise.

About the Author

Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum is the author of two collections of short fiction, This Life She's Chosen and Swimming With Strangers. Her writing has appeared in The American Scholar, One Story, and The Southern Humanities Review, among other journals. She teaches at Purchase College in New York.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm working on a novel, tentatively titled Dangerous Girls and set on Puget Sound in Washington State. As I'm still early in the drafting stage, I think that's all I can say about the novel with any certainty now. Novel-writing is a new beast for me, and my sense is that this book will change shape more than once before I complete it.

  • Writer's Desk

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