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.

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Comments Bradford Morrow

I wanted to write about the fragility of redemption. To give each a voice that would balance, as if on a crystal fulcrum that threatened to shatter at any moment, rich rapture with chaos and even annihilation. I had no interest whatever in making a cautionary tale as such, which was why I discarded an early draft written in third person. My pity toward James Chatham and his wife Margot struck me, along with the inescapable anguish I felt for them, as paradoxically judgmental. The draft seemed merely well-written and fictional.

James, I realized, needed to unveil his own pure love and terror of alcohol, without some narrator in the nearby shadows trying hard not to judge or save him. Too, his commitment to his doomed wife and their shared religion of liquor felt like his story to tell. And since Ivy Mattie, a casualty of coincidence not without her own frailties, experienced things James could not, her voice rose into life. A life and voice very different from but which also interweaved with his--flowers and spirits both being intoxicating--and so made a perfect analogue to their relationship.

The ending of this story still terrifies me, and while I'm not certain what James might do or say next, I am very aware that the illusory common sense behind his questioning comes from a place in all our psyches. This is true whether we're recovering from addiction or a broken heart, from any trivial mistake we may have made or cataclysmic error that might threaten to end all life. Even our smallest decisions are vast by implication.

(author photo © Michael Eastman)

Writing Tips

There is a deep contract, a marriage, between writing and reading. Reading, for me, is quite nearly a form of writing. When I am reading, and especially when I am reading something that is harmonious with my state of being, I find myself in a kind of ecstasy. Ezra Pound once wrote something to the effect that a book should be like a ball of light in your hands. It's that level of intimate and energetic engagement that the true reader and aspiring writer must share. That said, I happen to think that everybody should write things down. Cave walls worked for our distant ancestors, surely we can pencil, pen, or laptop our way through a little narrative. Stories, meditations, wish lists, recipes, new vocabulary words, the offhand phrase that came to mind when they saw something as magnificent as a voluminous field of evening fireflies, or as pedestrian as a badly stubbed toe on a cold winter morning. Words are alive in your eyes and in your fingers. You should always take care of them, but also be aware that despite the fact we wage war with and in them, all the time, they are our most valuable and dangerous gift.

About the Author

Bradford Morrow is the author of the novels Come Sunday, The Almanac Branch (a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award), Trinity Fields, Giovanni's Gift, and Ariel's Crossing. He is the author of five volumes of poetry as well as a childrenŐs book, A Bestiary, illustrated by 18 major American artists, including Eric Fischl, Kiki Smith, Joel Shapiro and Richard Tuttle. Morrow has edited numerous books most recently, with Sam Hamill, The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth. In 1998, the American Academy of the Arts and Letters presented him with the Academy Award in Literature. He is a professor of literature and Bard Center Fellow at Bard College and is founder and editor of the literary journal, Conjunctions. He lives in New York.

Writer's Desk

  • Recently completed books are Bradford Morrow and Gahan Wilson's An Amazing Book of Critters, an alphabestiary for children and adults, illustrated by a legendary cartoonist, and All the Things That are Wrong with Me, a collection of thirteen gothic stories. Currently at work on a new novel, The Prague Sonatas.

  • Writer's Desk

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