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 Hisham Matar
2012 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

O. Henry was one of the first American authors I had read. He was one of those authors who began my long love affair with American literature. I remember when I was a student walking through Green Park in London late one February afternoon in the rain, thinking of Lou and Nancy from "The Trimmed Lamp". And of course I am aware of the prestige and reputation of the Prize, and the quality of the writers in its pantheon, and therefore feel deeply honoured to have been included.

(author photo © Diana Matar)

Writing Tips

I start with very little: the more fragile, the better. The thread has to feel like it is about to snap. Sometimes I begin with a gesture or, in the case of "Naima," a feeling for a character. I had this feeling for Nuri, the protagonist and narrator. It is like that moment when you rush into the concert hall at the last minute. You find your seat as the lights go down. You have not seen the person sitting beside you, but you have a sense of them, of what they might be like, or of how the music is affecting them, the weight of their silence.

About the Author

Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood first in Tripoli and then in Cairo. His first novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It won six international literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book award for Europe and South Asia, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. It has been translated into twenty-six languages. Anatomy of a Disappearance, his second novel, was published in 2011. Matar lives in London, Cairo, and New York, where he is a visiting associate professor at Barnard College.

Writer's Desk

Wounded, troubled and ecstatic, my entire country, Libya, fell on my desk. It is hard to escape the conclusion sometimes that history has it in for the artist.

Writing Tips

From "Naima" by Hisham Matar

"I woke up several times believing that Naima was there. She was our maid, and had been since before I was born, before my parents left our country and moved to Egypt. In winter, when the sky got dark early and Mother worried about her making the long commute home, Naima would sleep on my bedroom floor. I would watch her lying on her side, facing the skirting board, her leg bent with the tight determination of a tree branch. Her devotion had always seemed muscular, too intense, but now I yearned for it; I wished that she had come with us, or even that I had bee left behind with her in Cairo."

Writer's Desk

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