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 Joan Silber

I was truly surprised. "War Buddies" was in an obscure (though, of course, great) journal called "The Land-Grant Review" and I was knocked out that Laura Furman had found it. When I saw the letter, I just assumed it had to do with a story picked for the O. Henry three years ago--I never thought for a second the note was about this story. As it happens, "War Buddies" (in modified form) is the opening to the novel I've been killing myself trying to write for the past few years. When I got my O. Henry letter, I can't tell you how much better the novel looked to me.

(author photo © Barry Goldstein)

Writing Tips

When I was younger, I had a lot of resistance to sitting down and writing. Later--and none too soon, I can tell you--it got much easier to show up at my desk. Now I sometimes wonder if the rest of life is getting more onerous. I do very much need the anchoring that being at my desk provides, and I am grouchy if I don't get it. I depend on having a few friends read what I write and goad me into being better. I am kept going by the hope that I can finally understand things that I half-understand--that all the effort that goes into forming a story that makes sense is also an effort toward seeing more clearly.

About the Author

Joan Silber is the author of Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories, a finalist for the National Book Award and four other books of fiction, including Household Words, winner of a Pen/Hemingway Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Paris Review and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2003, among other publications. She's received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and The New York Foundation for the Arts. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, and she lives in New York City.

Writer's Desk

  • The novel I'm just finishing (I've been just finishing it for many months) takes place in Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, and Sicily, as well as the U.S., and is narrated by a loosely linked group of characters. I keep saying it's about travel and solitude, and the tentative title is The Size of the World. The experience of a wider world--and the often uncomfortable contact with history--was something I wanted to put my characters through, since the time when local knowledge was enough seems to me to be over. And I wanted to talk about the lure of solitude, one of the most suppressed desires in our culture. I especially enjoyed working on the long section that takes place in southern Thailand in the 1920s, in a city with a then-peaceful mix of Muslim and Buddhist residents.

  • Writer's Desk

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