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 Shannon Cain
O. Henry Award-winning Author

As an emerging writer (as distinct from a "young writer"), inclusion in this esteemed anthology is a terrifying gift. Because I still think of myself as an apprentice of the craft, the prize knocks my world a little bit out of whack. It's so hard for any new artist to know whether she's on the right path. This honor is a hard shake to the shoulders.

Sure, Laura Furman plucked my story from a pile of others and held it to the light for a new readership to appreciate. As sweet as this feels, it's only part of the gift. The other, larger part is to have been taken seriously. To hear that my work represents in some small way the current state of the North American short story. My inclusion in this volume represents a circle of people interested in what comes next; a legion of hands at my back, urging me forward. That's the gift, and that's the terror.

(author photo © Sarah Prall)


Writing Tips

I think it's important to approach the process of revision with an open heart. For me, revision is where a story becomes what it's meant to be. The first draft is joyous and wild and uncontrolled. I feel the endorphins, sometimes, when it's going well. I get the urge to walk around, shake my hands. But revision, too, brings its own highs. The rush when I finally figure the story out, for example: when I find the layer, the element, the depth that's been missing in an earlier draft. When I listen closely enough to the narrative, it always tells me what to do next. Usually after multiple revisions of a story I've taught myself how to listen to it.

My first impulse is to say that, in contrast to novel writing, the short story form offers the author immediate gratification. But in fact it really doesn't. I began "The Necessity of Certain Behaviors" in July 2003; it appeared in the New England Review, finally, in March 2006. Along the way it went through seven or eight drafts. I changed the ending a bunch of times. But the truth is I'm still a student of the short story form. Each new story teaches me something else.

I wrote "The Necessity of Certain Behaviors" while in graduate school at the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. I was reading a lot, of course, because you can't be a good writer without being a good reader. I read Janet Kauffman and Lydia Davis and Lorrie Moore and Tillie Olsen and Alice Munro. Those writers lodged themselves in my head. Their voices and the craft choices they made had an important influence on my work that summer and fall, as did the mentorship of my advisor, Rob Cohen. "The Necessity of Certain Behaviors" was sparked specifically by a story by Stacey Richter called "The Island of Boyfriends," in which a woman is shipwrecked on a deserted island inhabited entirely by beautiful, doting men. She manages to screw up every relationship, or to fall in love with the losers. My story was born out of a desire to enter into a conversation with hers.



About the Author

As a child, Shannon Cain lived in Colorado, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, California, and Arizona, and she considers Tucson her hometown. A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and 2005 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, her stories have appeared in Tin House and The Massachusetts Review. Cain is the Executive Director of Kore Press, and she lives in Tucson with her partner and their daughter.


Writer's Desk

  • I'm deep into revisions on a novel set in Tucson. It's a love story, and it's also about the ways in which cities, especially those in the American West, are failing or succeeding with regard to sustainability and cultural relevance. But mostly, it's about love.


  • Writer's Desk

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