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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 Susan Minot
"Pole, Pole"
2011 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

I am honored (and rather amazed) to be selected. I'm especially thrilled having not published a book in about eight years, so the prospect of being between covers is most heartening.

(author photo © Dinah Minot)

Writing Tips

I edited this story with my great friend and mentor, Ben Sonnenberg, whose editorial generosity has been so important in my work, and life. When I was writing my first book, Monkeys, I was working at Ben Sonnenberg's great magazine Grand Street, and he worked with me on most of the stories as they came out, line-editing and questioning nearly every sentence. For my next five books he always read early manuscripts and would give me important feedback, but we didn't work as closely as we had until "Pole, Pole." As usual he mocked my mistakes and admonished me for trivialities and occasionally gave me his particular brand of a nod of approval. He died in June 2010 of complications of pneumonia, and he's the one person who would have been happier than I that this has received a PEN/O. Henry Award.

About the Author

Susan Minot was born in Boston, MA, in 1956. She is the author of Monkeys, Lust & Other Stories, Folly, Evening, Rapture and a poetry collection, Poems 4 A.M. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times Traveler, McSweeney's, and The Paris Review, among others. She wrote the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty." The film "Evening" was the first adaptation of her fiction. Minot divides her time between New York City and an island in Maine.

Writer's Desk

I am four years into working on a novel titled Flight.

It takes place in Uganda and is the story of two women, one an American journalist travelling with a small group of foreigners, writing a story on the kidnapped children of Northern Uganda, and the other a Ugandan girl who has been abducted from her boarding school by a band of so-called rebels and who eventually escapes. The two women's stories exist side by side, but many of their struggles are surprisingly similar.

Writing this story was born initially as a challenge to myself. I'd not published a book—or a story for that matter—in a long time, and in the long years of working on what looked as if it was now turning out to be two novels, I wanted simply to finish something. So one winter I took a break from the book to write this story. I had spent some time in Kenya in the late '90s and imagining a tryst there was a way of revisiting a place I'd been intrigued by. In the writing of the story I also began to envision a collection of intertwined stories set in East Africa, of which "Pole, Pole" would be a part. So that's another book which now needs to be written, though I have its title already: Fatina.

Writer's Desk

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