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 Elizabeth Tallent
"Never Come Back"
2011 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

A) It's a lovely surprise ending.

B) Because a lot of the teachers I know use the current PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories in their creative-writing classes, being included in these pages means being read by those who want to write themselves, and that kind of reading—ardent, smart—is a beautiful and heartening prospect.

C) It means being in very good company.



Writing Tips

Once there was a party on a summer evening on the lawn of a beautiful old adobe house in New Mexico. I was twenty-two, I made almost no money and I was perfectly happy not knowing what came next; and I was glad to have been invited to this fancy party. And standing in line for the buffet I fell into conversation with an unfairly tall unfairly beautiful person who radiated the confidence peculiar to heart surgeons and who was, in fact, a heart surgeon, and I was extremely happy to be twenty-two years old and ready for anything and standing in my summer dress beside a flirtatious heart surgeon, as if, had my heart chosen that moment to go awry, I would be saved. I hadn't really known until then that at some deep-down secret level I lived with a tiny sly knifeblade of distrust in my own heart. But there it was. I asked the heart surgeon, Why did you want to do heart surgery? Why choose that? The surgeon said, "I like the big things." I said, "Big things?" The surgeon said, "You know, life and death." And without thinking, in a kind of greedy rush to nail this suddenly alighting truth down, to get it said, I said, "That's what I like too," and the surgeon said hopefully "Yeah? What do you do?" and knowing that what I was going to say would end the flirtation and feeling that that was too bad in a way—okay, frankly feeling it was really too bad—I said "I want to write short stories." And the surgeon's expression is the one you wear when confronting somebody's terrible lapse in judgment.


About the Author

Elizabeth Tallent was born in Washington, DC, in 1954. Her work includes the story collections Honey and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. She teaches in Stanford's Creative Writing Program, and lives in California.


Writer's Desk

I'm working on a novel about botany and desire set in post-Civil War Mendocino County.


Writer's Desk

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