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 Derek Palacio
"Sugarcane"
2013 O. Henry Award-winning Author

It's an unbelievable honor to have my work included in The O. Henry Prize Stories and published alongside so many brilliant writers. I was fortunate enough for the story to first appear in the Kenyon Review, and this selection speaks as much to the quality of that magazine as it does to my efforts. I think this award also speaks to the quality of the Ohio State University Creative Writing Program, the place where I studied and the place where this story was written. Mostly I'm grateful for the wider audience this prize offers "Sugarcane," and I can't thank Laura Furman enough for that.

(author photo © Lily Glass)


Writing Tips

"Sugarcane" is one of my first attempts at piecing together a vision of Cuba that has been, for me, more myth than reality (my father is from Cuba, but I have never been—I've come to know it primarily through the memories he's shared with me). Having since written other stories nominally set on the island, I've discovered a personal proclivity to utilize fictitious rather than factual settings; the town of Patalón in "Sugarcane," its nearby military base, and its hills do not exist. Just the same, I tend to borrow from history or geography details that possibly anchor these unreal places to their tangible origins: the burning of the fields, the mountains in the island's southeast, sugar as a necessary commodity. Consequently, the Cuba of "Sugarcane" (to borrow slightly from Lord David Cecil) is not necessarily real or lifelike, but I hope it is alive.


About the Author

Derek Palacio was born in Evanston, IL, and mostly grew up in Greenland, NH. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Ohio State University. "Sugarcane" was his first published story. He is the author of The King Crow of New York, has work forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, and is the co-director, along with Claire Vaye Watkins, of the Mojave School, a non-profit creative writing workshop for teenagers in rural Nevada. He lives and teaches in Lewisburg, PA.

Writer's Desk

I am working on a novel.


Writing Tips

From "Sugarcane" by Derek Palacio

Armando should never have taken on the boy, but the food lines were long, and despite being the town doctor, he was not privileged beyond the standard cup of sugar every Saturday. He had a jeep, no roof, paid for by the barracks, but he was allowed no passengers (other than the boy) and he could not drive the vehicle except on house calls to the base, which he made daily. He'd thought about taping boards where the windows should be and driving south to the city beaches on weekends, but he'd also thought about setting fire to his house, hiking to Guardalavaca, slipping into the ocean at midnight and trying for Duncan Town. The bad joke was most of the sugar left the island, and even if Armando could drive the jeep to another food station, he'd still have to produce a clean rations book, which his was not. People eyed him jealously when the truck sputtered by on uneven roads, but his luxury only meant he could work longer hours and see patients further away. So when a pound of raw sugar appeared five months ago in his mailbox with a note requesting an internship for the plantation manager's son, Armando wrote back "yes" and "of course" while shoveling four teaspoons of amber crystal into his evening coffee.

But the boy, Eduardo, was thick in the hands, and recently he'd proven himself thick in the ears. Entrance exams were now sixteen days away and the week before he confessed to not having read the books Armando had given him back in April. He said they were all lists and diagrams, and he was learning more by watching.

"You have to make the marks first," Armando told him.

"I will study between now and then," Eduardo replied, "and you will write a letter."

Jose Martí could not write a letter that would justify Eduardo's place in school.


Writer's Desk

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