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 Mark Slouka
"The Vanishing American"
2011 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

Not all writing awards are created equal. Some can feel trendy, safe, oddly arbitrary; others, like the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, gain a reputation over time not only for the strength of the writing they honor, but for their allegiance to quality and nothing else. I've read the series for years, looked forward to it, discovered new writers through it. Above all, I've admired it for its consistency and its willingness to thumb its nose at the fashion de jour and simply publish the finest short fiction out there. And for all these reasons I'm pleased, no, honored, to find my own work included.

(author photo © Maya Slouka)

Writing Tips

Writers on writing fall into two groups: They either don't know what to say—overwhelmed by the difficulty of describing this thing they do mostly by instinct and intuition—or you can't get them to shut up. I can fall into either camp depending on the day, though I've noticed that I seem to have more to say in direct proportion to how poorly I'm writing; when I'm in, really in, I'm almost completely inarticulate. That said, I think one of the greatest tricks in fiction, the thing I'm always hunting, is the balance between what I would call precision and sleep. In my experience, the story pushes you, nudges you in directions you can't anticipate, and you have to be willing to go where it tells you, blind; you have to trust it. At the same time that you're allowing yourself to be led, though, you have to control the landscape, shape it, force it to reveal what it wants to reveal. Sounds crazy, I know. How to make sure you're not "too awake," as Virginia Woolf put it, but just awake enough? I found that balance in the last two pages of "Crossing." I wish I knew when I'll find it again.

About the Author

Mark Slouka is the author of a collection of stories, Lost Lake, two novels, God's Fool and The Visible World, which have been translated into sixteen languages, and Essays from the Nick of Time. Recipient of National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships and a Contributing Editor at Harper's, his short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, Harper's, and Granta, among other publications, and his essays and stories have been anthologized in Best American Essays and Best American Stories. He has taught at Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Chicago, and lives outside New York City.

Writer's Desk

After three years of searching for the right vein, I've found a story that needs telling. A novel. A tremendous sense of relief, or arrival. I'm sleeping badly again—dreaming about it, distracted as hell—but happy. I can't say much because, as all writers know, the bubble is fragile, but this one, finally, is an American story, a tale of rage and loss set in the immigrant, working- class America I grew up in, circa 1968. I've had my issues with Europe in the past, and may again, but in this story Europe is a faint echo, a shadow, a dream half-remembered and best forgotten. So we'll see. No one may want to read it, but I want and need to write it, and that's enough for me. Everything, actually.

Writer's Desk

Browse our archive of featured authors from this and other editions of The O. Henry Prize Stories.

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