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 Judy Doenges
2011 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

I am a writer who is protective of her characters. The eponymous Melinda of my story, a troubled young woman, desperately needs witnesses to her struggle. When I wrote the story, I hoped for the sharpest and most sympathetic readers, those who knew that it was necessary to accompany a main character through a story rather than simply observe her actions. Being a part of the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories gives me my dream audience, one that will be fully present at that moment of possibility in my protagonist's life. It's an honor to introduce Melinda to new readers and to a host of writers I admire, and it's thrilling to be a part of this gathering of such talented literary citizens.

Writing Tips

I've always been suspicious when writers say a story came to them unbidden and nearly whole cloth. After all, writing is drafting and revising and then more revising. Writing "Melinda" was my first experience with literary immaculate conception: The voice, the setting, even the narrative appeared before me, ready for quickening. But my happiness with the finished story doesn't weaken my devotion to a realistic work ethic, one that requires dedication, patience, and acute empathy.

The latter quality need not be an elusive part of one's writing process. Empathy encompasses a host of efforts, those that get a writer into a character's mind, those that allow a writer to feel a character's physical pains, and those that endeavor to bring a character—and a story—to an emotional pitch. This pitch can be a mere blip of awareness or it can be a roar of anger, sadness, or joy, but, for me, a story has to have deep psychological rewards. As a writer and a reader, I want a story that hones an understanding of the self as well as the protagonist.

About the Author

Judy Doenges was born in Elmhurst, Illinois, in 1959. She is the author of a novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, and a short fiction collection, What She Left Me (a New York Times Book Review Notable Book). Her stories and essays have appeared in many journals, among them Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, and Western Humanities Review. She has received fellowships and awards from many sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and Artist Trust. She teaches at Colorado State University.

Writer's Desk

I have started work on a novel about eugenics in the United States, and I continue to write stories about transgressors of various kinds.

Writer's Desk

Browse our archive of featured authors from this and other editions of The O. Henry Prize Stories.

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