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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 Irina Reyn
O. Henry Recommended Story Author

The story was inspired by a trip I took to Poland in the late-1990s. In retrospect, it was a crucial time in my life. I was in my mid-twenties, living in Manhattan and working in a series of theoretically glamorous but ultimately unsatisfying jobs. Wandering around Warsaw, what I encountered was both the specter of lost Jews as well as young Jewish professionals like me but who were delving into their heritage and exploring its role in the new Poland. A few years later, I wondered if that trip made me come to terms with certain fears that I may have been suppressing, even from myself. These tensions fueled the initial idea for the story.

The story's strength owes a large part to One Story editor Hannah Tinti, who met me in a cafe for three hours and painstakingly went over "The Wolf Story" line by line. The way she able to demystify the story writing process, to extract clarity from confusion, was inspiring.

(author photo © Amy C. Elliott)


From "The Wolf Story," an O. Henry Recommended Story

The night before I was to leave, we went to bed early. I fell asleep on the cot, and Lauren on the sofa, but several hours later, I shuddered awake to voices coming from the kitchen. The light from the naked bulb on the ceiling was filtering into the living room, shadows shimmering on the floor.

"The future of Poland," Lauren was whispering, "is a Jewish baby."

"I can't believe this. This baby, it is impossible," a male voice said. "To have baby right now? You must be joking."

"But it's the right thing to do."

The conscious part of me wanted to eavesdrop, and I contemplated confronting Mateusz, his curls and his dimples, his Star of David, to lecture him about responsibility, but too many glasses of Zybrowka and apple juice were weighing down my eyelids. I went back to sleep.

In the morning, I said goodbye to Lauren, who looked as though sleep had eluded her. Her thin hair was tied in a messy knot, skin creased around her eyes. She stood among the Soviet relics of my youth: the shabby brown furniture, the worn, faded carpet on the wall. On the kitchen table stood two glass mugs full of cold tea and a plate of fanned cheese slices, their outer edges turning a deep, crusty orange after sitting uncovered for several hours.

I hugged Lauren, wanting to know how to confide in her again. In the gray chill of morning, the apartment was homey, with its interplay of brown and orange, its warm shabbiness. I stepped out into the hall.

"Why did you come here?" she asked, in her immigrant nightgown, her hand ready to shut the door behind me.

I muttered something about wanting to help one of my best friends, but suddenly I couldn't recall whether during that phone call from Warsaw I had been summoned, or if I had summoned myself. Had I remembered it incorrectly? Had it been I who dialed Lauren in Poland, struggling to make myself understood in Russian, finally tracking her down through the Jewish Historical Institute? She needs me. I had thought of my grandmother then, no doubt. Where had I been when she collapsed on her own stairs?

("The Wolf Story" by Irina Reyn first appeared in One Story. Copyright © 2007 by Irina Reyn. Excerpted by permission of the author.)

About the Author

Irina Reyn was born in Moscow, and raised in New York and New Jersey. Her first novel is What Happened to Anna K., and she is editor of the anthology Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take on the Garden State.

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