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 Viet Dinh
PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

Critics sometimes bemoan the death of the short story. So let's say, for the sake of argument, that they're right: the short story is dead. It's a moldering corpse. I see the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories as the mysterious wave of radiation at the start of "Night of the Living Dead" that raises the dead to wreak havoc on the living. But that's what a short story should do: it should make you rethink your life. How would I have reacted in that situation? Would I have taken the same road? Is now a good time to barricade the house and light kerosene torches? Like any good zombie, a good short story trudges on, ignoring bullets from the incredulous and inspiring others to follow in its heavy, undead footsteps.

And then it eats your brain.

(author photo © Courtesy of the Author)

Writing Tips

I view writing a short story much like constructing a miniature dollhouse. First, you have to build the encompassing structure: load-bearing walls, rafters, support beams, roof, floors. Once that's complete, you can start thinking about the interior furnishings—which wallpaper in the parlor? A settee or a chaise longue? After spending a good amount of time rearranging the furniture, you attend to the minute details that seem incredibly obsessive but occupy your time nonetheless. Books on the shelves no bigger than a thumbnail with pages and writing on each page. Engraved scrollwork on a silver platter holding fruit with beads of water like specks of dust. You paint with increasingly smaller brushes, and your hand gets less steady. Sometimes you get so frustrated that you want to bring your foot down on the whole enterprise and reduce it to splinters. You wonder, What sort of grown man builds dollhouses for a living? Maybe I should have gone to medical school. But, then, sometimes, you step back and look at what you've created, and people stop by and applaud your efforts, and what you have is so beautiful that you yourself wish that you could live in it.

About the Author

Viet Dinh was born in Ðà Lat, Vietnam, in 1974, and spent his formative years in Aurora, Colorado. In 2008, he received a Fiction Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Threepenny Review, Five Points, Chicago Review, Fence, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Epoch, among others. He received his MFA from the University of Houston and currently lives in Wilmington, Delaware.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm currently working on a novel about a group of aid workers who help out after an earthquake. I'm also finishing a collection of short stories that center around horror movies. I've stopped building dollhouses.

  • Writer's Desk

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