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 Sheila Kohler
O. Henry Award-winning Author

It is, of course, an honor and particular pleasure for me to be included in The O. Henry Prize Stories, as this is the second time one of my stories has appeared, the first being my very first published story, a story called "The Mountain" which came out in the Quarterly and was in The O. Henry Prize Stories 1988. At the time, I thought that was what happened when you wrote a story, though I still remember the great thrill of it. It was also the first chapter of my first novel (though William Abrahams [then the series editor of The O. Henry Prize Stories] didn't know that). Now, of course, after twenty years and many published stories, I was equally delighted and thrilled that at this point in my career this had happened again.

(author photo © Marion Ettlinger)

Writing Tips

I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. So much is in the rewriting. I also have faithful and wonderful readers who have helped me over the years with suggestions. In this story, Richard Burgin, who is the editor at Boulevard, had an excellent suggestion which made me revise the original ending to the story.

I love the short story though it is very difficult--closer perhaps to poetry. You have to get in and get out very quickly, and something has to happen in between. Somehow one knows, I think, at the start if this is material for a short story or a novel. Short stories often, though not always, turn around one moment of change, and everything works toward that moment, whereas novels, of course, have to keep going from one little turn to another with tributaries flowing into the river of the narrative as it goes along.

I think "The Transitional Object" was written out of anger, an ancient buried anger, which just bubbled up and collected a lot of debris from my life, condensed it, and restructured it into a story. On the page, my character was able to act, whereas in the real-life events which are behind the story, I had been passive. Such is often the joy of fiction, a place where we can take control of what has been out of control in our lives.

About the Author

Sheila Kohler was born in South Africa. She is the author of six novels: Bluebird or the Invention of Happiness, Crossways, Children of Pithiviers, Cracks, The House on R Street, and The Perfect Place; and three story collections, Stories from Another World, One Girl, and Miraces in America. Kohler's work also received the Open Voice prize, Smart Family Foundation prize, and Willa Cather Prize. She was awarded The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship of the New York Public Library. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, City College of New York, Brooklyn College, The New School, Bennington College, the West Side YMCA, and Princeton University. Kohler lives in New York City.

Writer's Desk

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