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 Alice Mattison
"The Vandercook"
2012 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

New writers often assume that experienced, published writers are confident, but I don't know any confident writers. It was simply wonderful to get this news. I've admired Laura Furman's writing and editing for a long time, and that makes it even better.

(author photo © Ben Mattison)

Writing Tips

All my life I've believed in the solitude of writer and reader: one person tells a secret to one person, and they don't even know each other. I didn't speak of a novel I loved for years, keeping it for myself, which now seems so unfair that I'll name it: Crooked Hearts by Robert Boswell. As a reader, though, I still treasure the illusion that the author is speaking only to me. I keep my writing secret for a long time and take pleasure in being, temporarily, the only person who knows my characters. But this idea is incomplete. There is also the republic of letters: the community of those who love the written word and must work to preserve its freedom and to spread the joy of writing and reading. There's a third thing I've come to love through my teaching in an MFA program and in writer's conferences, and it's the friendship and common purpose of people who love books and writing, and come together over them. There is a moment to stop being solitary.

About the Author

Alice Mattison grew up in Brooklyn. Her new novel, When We Argued All Night, will be published in 2012, and she is the author of five previous novels, four collections of stories, and a book of poems. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in many magazines including The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, and Ecotone. She teaches fiction in the Bennington Writing Seminars. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where she is a longtime volunteer in a soup kitchen.

Writer's Desk

I've just finished a novel, When We Argued All Night. Now I'm in the early stages of a new novel, an archeologist trying to dig it up without scratching it. I also have two personal essays and a short story on my desk. Stories haven't come often for a while, so I'm glad they seem to be returning.

Writing Tips

From "The Vandercook" by Alice Mattison

Molly was restless—she did not rest. She had messy brown curls I loved touching, muscular arms and legs, and firm convictions. Now and then her hair flopped over her face and she flung it back with a look of surprise, as if this had never happened before. She was blunt, sometimes critical—often outrageous. Once she came to a decision, she was alone with it; even if the decision made everyone unhappy—including her—her determination was unwavering. The two of us mostly shared political beliefs, but it was Molly who went online and made the donation, led me and the kids to the protest march, phoned the senator. Occasionally Molly marched on the wrong side. For a couple of months she had unaccountably believed George Bush about Iraq, and would not hear me. When several events in my life with Molly might have made me take heed, I did not take heed.

Writer's Desk

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

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