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 Kirsten Iskandrian
"The Inheritors"
2014 O. Henry Award-winning Author

I remember reading the O.Henry Prize Stories when I was in college, and getting this very clear and sharp and exciting sense that literature was happening. I had always been a reader, and I was an English major at the time, and even still, it had always seemed to me that literature, what I knew of it and what I was being taught, was a past-tense event. Like a war or a discovery, it had taken place, and was being learned and memorialized by people like me. Reading the O.Henry collections helped disabuse me of this notion, helped me to recognize the vitality of the story, the spasms and currents of language that are happening now, happening all the time and in many different directions. It's thrilling for me to be both part of this legacy, and part of the ongoing conversation it has created.

(author photo © Kimberly Cook Iskandrian)

Author's Desk

For the last couple of years I have been working on a novel. I won't say what it's about, but it involves mothers and daughters, letters and visions, and a sort of steady stream of existential despair. And some jokes. There has to be humor, even down in the abyss. I enter a strange state when I'm writing it, and when I stop, the world seems colored with its same strangeness. I'm always writing short stories, too, whether I'm revising old ones or working on new pieces. Short stories provide relief during the long slog of writing a novel, like little points of light, little ventilation holes. It feels good, while in the midst of something that can seem sort of suffocatingly asprawl, to poke one's head up and actually complete something. I hope to put these together into a collection one day.

About the Author

The space of writing is, for me, the space of the question. The infinite, unanswerable question. It's what Rilke said, and in another way, a little while later, what Jabès said—becoming the silence, so as to be able to hear the silence speak. There is, too, the constant negotiation between the no and the yes—having to shut parts of one's life out in order to reach that silence, to find that desert. And then having to say yes to being there. The friction between excess and restraint, for me anyway, is near continuous. I tend to edit as I write, which makes for a slow process, needling around on the word level and then stepping back to try and see the whole—a sort of camera-like zooming in and zooming out. I came to writing fiction after a brief stint writing poetry, and although I do not consider myself a poet, the shape of poetry, its muscle, its thrum, will always be my back wall, hemming in whatever I'm attempting, informing it from a watchful distance. In a sense, the short story is that sweet spot between the poem and the novel, for how it can, in the arc of a few pages, give us one or two small things that in turn give us the world—our humanity, our depravity, and occasionally, our transcendence.

About the Author

Kristen Iskandrian was born and raised in Philadelphia. She received her BA from the College of the Holy Cross and her MA and PhD from the University of Georgia. Her work has been published in Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, American Letters & Commentary, Memorious, La Petite Zine, Fifty-Two Stories, Pank, Tin House, and many other places. Her first novel is forthcoming from Twelve/Hachette in 2017. She lives in Birmingham, AL.

Writer's Desk

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