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 O. Henry Prize-winning authors free rein to share their thoughts on these questions and others, and the result is a rare treat.

(Browse our archive of featured authors from The O. Henry Prize Stories.)


Comments Richard McCann

As a college student in the late 1960s, when I was first beginning to write, I spent hours sitting on the tile floor of the Richmond Public Library, in Richmond, Virginia, poring through old volumes of the O. Henry Prize Stories, in which I first encountered those writers whose stories I've now loved best for many years, such as Sherwood Anderson, Dorothy Canfield, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Tillie Olsen, and Flannery O'Connor. What would it be like, I used to wonder, to write a story that would make it into the O. Henry Prize Stories? I imagined it would be like entering eternity.

As it happens, I stopped writing stories as soon as I graduated college; I didn't try my hand at writing them again for more than fifteen years--and that, I should add, was quite a while ago now, at least as I see it now. What, then, does it mean after so many years to be included in the O. Henry Prize Stories? I feel, quite happily, as if I've returned to that boy who sat on the tile floor of the public library, falling in love with short stories for the first time--that boy whom I left there, well, an eternity ago.



(author photo © Sigrid Estrada)


Writing Tips

Most of what I might say was already said better by Hippocrates: "Ars longa, vita brevis." In my own case, I mean by this something less lofty than Hippocrates had in mind, however: I'm a slow writer. Stories often take me at least a few years each, working on them bit by little bit.

Long before I turned to fiction--or, rather, to what I think of as narrative prose, since my "fiction" derives at least as much from that which is autobiographical as that which is imagined--I wrote and published poetry. As a prose writer, I now find that I still work the way a poet does, word by word, with a particular interest in the metaphoric power of the concrete image.

As for what keeps me going, I'm often inspired by returning over and over to some of the books that I love best, such as Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight; Grace Paley's Later the Same Day; and Tillie Olsen's Tell Me a Riddle.

And then there's this: I have the fantasy that I will be able to use up whatever life that I am given, whether good or bad, by mulling it over and writing it down.


About the Author

Richard McCann is the author, most recently, of the collection of linked stories, Mother of Sorrows. He is also the author of Ghost Letters, a collection of poems, and the editor (with Michael Klein) of Things Shaped in Passing: More 'Poets for Life' Writing from the Aids Pandemic. His work has appeared in such magazines as The Atlantic, Esquire, and Ms, and in numerous anthologies. He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo, among other organizations, and he is a professor in the graduate program in creative writing at American University. He lives in Washington, D.C.


Writer's Desk

  • I'm currently working on a series of autobiographical narratives--essays, really, that are told for the most part as stories--that derive from my experience as a liver transplant recipient. In these narratives, I am exploring what it means to live in a body, such as my own, that has been kept alive by the death of a stranger.


  • Writer's Desk

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