The O. Henry Prize Stories  
o henry awards    


Each year, out of the seeming chaos of thousands of short stories published in hundreds of magazines, a tidy collection of twenty or so stories emerges, laying claim to representing the best of what was published during the course of the previous year. Over time, a given volume tends even to take on an air of inevitability. But there is nothing simple or remotely inevitable about the choices that go into narrowing an enormous field down to such a small sampling. Hundreds of O. Henry Awards- worthy stories are written and published annually. In the end, order is imposed simply by the necessary act of choosing.

The traditional scope of this series and other annual "best of " collections often favors realistic, literary fiction. However, as Joyce Carol Oates points out in her introduction, the First Prize-winning "The Ceiling" by Kevin Brockmeier is more stylistically expressive, along the lines of a dark fairy tale. The stories in this volume by David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Nolan, and David Leavitt likewise stretch the form in nontraditional directions. The inclusion of such work enriches what I believe is a nicely balanced collection on several levels.

Aside from the common element of accomplished work, there are a few themes that connect several of the stories. The most obvious one is that a lot of them revolve around travel—thirteen of the twenty, in fact. In the past, I've often decided early in the year to include a particular story, which then strikes a chord that affects many of my choices thereafter. For this volume, that story was Deborah Eisenberg's "Like It or Not," about a divorced woman visiting a friend in Rome who ends up taking a trip to the coast with a stranger. The themes I've identified—travel, marriage, and writing—provide what I hope are some interesting connections, but they don't necessarily sweep up all of the stories in the collection. While one or the other could be stretched to fit almost any of the stories, my choices weren't made solely on this basis. For instance, in the David Gates story, "George Lassos Moon," the main character travels from Manhattan to his childhood home in upstate New York, and he does so on the heels of a failed marriage, but neither of these elements is central to the story. A theme can enliven a collection, and some connections are bound to emerge whether you choose stories on such a basis or not, but I wouldn't want to invest in particular themes to the point that they strangled off other possibilities. In editing this collection, I have always sought to strike a balance between looking for certain kinds of stories while remaining open to anything. The true theme of the O. Henry Awards is good fiction.

Larry Dark, 2002

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