Anchor Books The O. Henry Prize Stories
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About the Editor


How long does it take to write a short story?

By their nature, stories are secretive. Each holds a mystery, and it's first up to the author and then the reader to discover the nature of the mystery. Really good stories feel inevitable. Everything in them might seem preordained, but before a story entices a reader, the author serves as its advance scout.

Some stories are quickly finished, and these are rare gifts. But a number of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017 authors were struck by the time their stories took to reach completion.

"Protection," a tale of family love and possessiveness, meant for Paola Peroni years of thinking and revising. Keith Eisner's "Blue Dot," a flawless account of a drug trip and lost love, stayed with him twenty-five years before it was finished. Kate Cayley's "The Bride and the Street Party" and Amit Majmudar's "Secret Lives of the Detainees"—one about parental love, the other about torture and survival—took more than a year before they were ready for their readers. Michelle Huneven's heartbreaking "Too Good to Be True" required six years before she understood how it needed to be told.

Understanding takes as long as it takes. The kernel of a story might come in a flash; then the writer has to figure out how far the story reaches, and when and how it ends. Ignoring it and not thinking about it directly are often the author's best strategies for discovering how to complete it.

Thanks to all twenty O. Henry 2017 authors for staying with their stories and most of all for giving them to us, the readers.

Laura Furman
Austin, Texas
August 2017

(Copyright © 2017 Laura Furman)

Read Laura Furman's introduction to The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2017.

Read previous editor's notes from:
(photo © Ave Bonar)


Laura Furman was born in New York, and educated in New York City public schools and at Bennington College. Her first story appeared in The New Yorker in 1976, and since then her work has appeared in Yale Review, Southwest Review, Ploughshares, American Scholar, and other magazines. Her books include three collections of short stories, two novels, and a memoir. She's the recipient of fellowships from the New York State Council on the Arts, Dobie Paisano Project, Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Series Editor of The O. Henry Prize Stories since 2002, she taught for many years at the University of Texas at Austin. Her new collection of stories, The Mother Who Stayed, was published in 2011.