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 Emily Ruskovich
"Owl"
2015 O. Henry Award-winning Author

My dad gave me "The Last Leaf" by O. Henry when I was about eleven years old. I liked it so much that later on, in high school, I decided to replace all the characters' names with my own name and with that of my best friend Catherine. Emily, of course, was the dying girl in the bed, and Catherine the wise and devoted friend who indirectly saved Emily's life through art. I gave this modified version of the story to Catherine as a gift. It had O. Henry's name at the top, but Catherine didn't see that. She saw all of the "Catherine" and "Emily" references and assumed that I had written it. She was amazed by me. She said she had no idea I had that kind of talent. "This is so much better than anything you've ever written," she said. "I can't believe you are capable of this." Strangely, I was moved by her belief in me even though it was founded on accidental plagiarism. I confessed to her right away that I didn't write the story, but even so I felt connected to O. Henry from then on. She and I later adapted "The Ransom of Red Chief" for a two-person high school play, which we performed ourselves in drama competitions we never came close to winning. It wasn't until college that I discovered that there was a short story prize collection in O. Henry's name. It was one of the first anthologies I ever purchased. Years later, when I found out that my story would be included, I was deeply moved. It is very humbling to see my story alongside the stories of so many writers I admire. An honor to have been chosen.

(author photo © Sam McPhee)


Writing Tips

The first thing I ever wrote was a poem about the world ending. I was four years old and couldn't spell or even write my name, so I dictated it to my mother as I was sitting on our front porch just outside the small town of Athol, Idaho: "When the world ends, my heart will be singing. / When the world ends, I will be very sad. / But right now I am sitting on the porch with my mom, and I'm holding a glass of water."

What I like so much about that very simple poem is the impulse that brought it to life. At four years old, I understood without ever having been told that all the things in my life were temporary, and I wanted already to see them preserved. My mom, the porch, the glass of water. These three things together seemed so large and so small at the same time. Something about that moment on the porch in Athol, Idaho, moved me—I wasn't scared or happy. I was simply amazed. I could find no other way to do justice to this feeling than to ask my mother to write it down.


Writer's Desk

I am in the final stages of editing my first novel titled Idaho about a family in Northern Idaho.


About the Author

Emily Ruskovich grew up in the Idaho Panhandle. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and was a fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin. Her fiction has appeared in Zoetrope, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Inkwell. Her first novel and first collection of short stories are both forthcoming. She teaches at the University of Colorado in Denver, and lives in the mountains west of the city.


Writer's Desk

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