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 Preeta Samarasan
2010 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

I think of the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories as the writer's anthology. The stories are so diverse, and often so brave, so risky; you could pick up any volume and use it to refute the tired argument that American short fiction uniformly satisfies the boundaries of some mysterious formula handed down through generations of MFA workshops. Like anyone who writes short fiction, I've dreamt of being in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories for years. It's an immense honor to be within its pages, and I'm still half-convinced I'll wake up and find out it was all a dream.

Writing Tips

I didn't always want to be a writer; as a child and even as a teenager, I didn't know any writers in real life. I didn't think it was actually possible in my world; only white people, or dead people, or, better yet, dead white people, could be writers. But what I did know was that my country made me sad and angry in equal measure every day, as soon as I was old enough to be conscious of living in a country. It is this sadness and anger that fuel my writing today: a sadness for what my country could have been, and an anger at those whose loud voices drown out all the stories but the ones they've invented about our country.

I've read a lot and thought a lot about writing; I've studied with some great teachers, discussed craft and style and inspiration in workshop after workshop, but when it comes down to it, I cannot write without both that sadness and that anger. I read the news, talk to friends and relatives in Malaysia, and go home every year just to feel that all over again, just as sharply as when I lived there, if not more so. Everything else—plot, structure, pace—is secondary, and seems to follow on its own once I can truly feel the grief and fury inside the very first seed of a story. I don't think about explaining my country to those who don't know it; my mission is not to teach the world about my culture. I write for those of my countrymen whose voices are suppressed for political or social reasons, by themselves or by "higher" authorities. This is true of my work even when it is not explicitly political—even, I should say, when a non-Malaysian audience might detect no political subtext whatsoever in my words. And so, by default, I also write for non-Malaysians who appreciate the fact that I don't explain anything, rather than feeling excluded or puzzled by that decision.

About the Author

Preeta Samarasan was born in Malaysia in 1976 and moved to the United States in 1992 to finish high school. She has an MA in musicology from the Eastman School of Music and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. In 2007, she won the Asian American Writers' Workshop/Hyphen Magazine short story contest. Her short fiction has appeared in Hyphen, A Public Space, Asia Literary Review, Five Chapters, EGO Magazine, and the anthology Urban Odysseys: KL Stories. Her first novel, Evening Is The Whole Day, was longlisted for the Orange Prize, shortlisted for the Commonwealth First Book Award, and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. She currently lives in a small village in central France.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm working on a second novel, also set in Malaysia. I'm not officially working on a short-story collection, but I continue to write short fiction. And finally, I'm working on raising a brand-new human being—my daughter, born in June 2009—and marveling at all the ways in which this experience is transforming me and will therefore transform my writing.

  • Writer's Desk

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