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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 Halina Duraj
O. Henry Recommended Story Author

For one year I worked as an administrative assistant for a Unitarian Universalist Church. The church's women's group held an annual lunch, and I was invited. At the luncheon, I struck up a conversation with the woman seated beside me. The first line of my story is inspired by this woman's life—I was fascinated by a wedding reception preceding its ceremony. In our society, most engagements still follow a conventional narrative—proposal, diamond ring, white dress, ceremony, reception, honeymoon. There may be variation and creativity around these central motifs, but many people cleave to some form of the tradition. Choosing to hold a reception before a wedding ceremony seemed bold for the time; that boldness suggested character and tension, and the story took off fictionally. I wanted it to explore the way in which tradition, or the flaunting of tradition, reveals conflict between generations—the grudging participation of a mother from a stuffier, more staid generation, and a daughter's peculiar form of societal rebellion.

(author photo © Chad Nielsen)


From "Terrible Driver," an O. Henry Recommended Story

She floated around her house, poured wine, sang along to arias, and nodded and smiled when her guests touched her arm and exclaimed at the lushness of the velvet of her dress, the tenderness of the lobster, the bouquet of the wine—it's all so perfect, they said, you've done everything perfectly. With that, she could almost ignore the disapproving line of her mother's mouth, and her sister trying awkwardly to talk to Harry. More wine. Davina needed more wine, her sister needed more wine, everyone needed more wine.

She floated into the kitchen, reached into the crates stacked by the sink, pulled out a new bottle of wine, handed it to her almost-husband, who stood by the counter, embroiled in a conversation with her friends from graduate school, smoking, gesturing with the hand that held the cigarette.

His thick glasses were steaming up in the hot kitchen. He pulled them off and swiped them across the front of his blazer. He was shouting about something—politics, it sounded like—and through her pleasant tipsy haze, she felt as if she were in her office, writing a note on her pad: "Displays new behavior: loud, excitable."

She handed Jack the wine bottle and without stopping his conversation, without looking at her, without putting down his cigarette—someone pulled it from between his teeth and held it for him—he worked the cork out, wiggled it back and forth, the bottle clamped between his thighs for leverage. Someone said, "Davina, you need a new corkscrew," and Jack looked up, laughing, gesturing toward Davina with the cigarette back in his hand.

("Terrible Driver" by Halina Duraj first appeared in Witness. Copyright © by Halina Duraj. Excerpted by permission of the author.)

About the Author

Halina Duraj lives in Salt Lake City, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at the University of Utah. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Fiction, Witness, and Third Coast.

Writer's Desk

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