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 Wil Weitzel
2017 O. Henry Award-winning Author

My father loved O. Henry. He used to read us "The Gift of the Magi." My father was a talented storyteller and he could bring that story out so you wouldn't forget it. Sometimes he'd start weeping when he read it because the story is so moving, and because my father had that passion. Together, he and O. Henry were too much—you couldn't hold your ground. They would take you by force.

That's how I feel now in the wake of the news that a story I wrote has been honored with this prize and will appear alongside the work of such talented writers. I've read The O. Henry Prize Stories of past years and learned so much from the diverse explorations they enact within the short story form. The chance to be included in that tradition and to remember my father's hold on an audience is another powerful combination.

(author photo © Michelle Weitzel)

Writing Tips

Writing, especially about physical experience of the world, has taught me how closely not only our bodies but our emotions are tied to our surroundings. To be able to access in writing the emotions that accompany and forge our physical life, not only in "nature" but wherever we are, can mean being intensely alive in more than one moment at a time. To remember how I felt underwater or in a rush hour subway or running through a forest gets easier when words drop into view that approximate the nearness of those experiences while they are happening. But then again, that hardly feels like memory. The act of rebuilding some visceral experience involves a wild transcription not quite under my control. I feel like I usually know if I've gotten close, and when it's way off. Writing has taught me my emotions are key to that rebuilding, and if I can find a way back to some meeting point of my feelings and senses, then I have a chance to recreate intensity on the page that was so powerful in the lived moment I can't forget it.

Writer's Desk

I am completing a collection of stories set in diverse cultural and ecological contexts and at work on a first novel tracking the risks four people take growing up together. To navigate the challenges of living in isolated conditions in a rural northeastern town, they devise tests of courage that threaten their relationships and escalate until they're putting their lives on the line. It has been revealing to work on the novel in the wake of the stories because stories invoke urgency by virtue of their relatively compressed form. That urgency seems important to the novel also, but attempting to manage stakes over the course of a longer project has meant rethinking what counts as stakes and identifying motivation at an earlier level of inception. That, in turn, has led me back to my own risk-taking, which is something I'm warned about often but don't think about enough—so it has been a really valuable process.

About the Author

Wil Weitzel was born in New York City and has lived in Texas, Washington, D.C., Portugal, and Boston. His stories have appeared in Conjunctions and Kenyon Review, among other publications, and he has received a NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship at the Center for Fiction, won the Washington Square Flash Fiction Award, and was a finalist for the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction from Southwest Review. He lives in New York City.

Writer's Desk

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