Laura Furman, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Kevin Brockmeier, Michael Parker, Wendell Berry, Nell Freudenberger, Ben Fountain, Charles D’Ambrosio, Gail Jones, Edward P. Jones, Dale Peck, Ron Rash, Timothy Crouse, Paula Fox, Liza Ward, Nancy Reisman, Caitlin Macy, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Frances de Pontes Peebles, Tessa Hadley, Sherman Alexie

The O Henry Prize Stories 2005



1919-1932 Blanche Colton Williams

1933-1940 Harry Hansen

1941-1951 Herschel Bricknell

1954-1959 Paul Engle

1960 Mary Stegner

1961-1966 Richard Poirier

1967-1996 William Abrahams

1997-2002 Larry Dark

2003- Laura Furman


Louise Erdrich, Thom Jones, David Foster Wallace

Andrea Barrett, Mary Gaitskill, Rick Moody

Sherman Alexie, Stephen King, Lorrie Moore

Michael Cunningham, Pam Houston, George Saunders

Michael Chabon, Mary Gordon, Mona Simpson

Dave Eggers, Joyce Carol Oates, Colson Whitehead

David Guterson, Diane Johnson, Jennifer Egan

The Series Editor wishes to thank Sue Batterton, Rebecca Bengal,

Peter Short, and Susan Williamson for their help and good company during

our long talks about short stories, and the staff of Anchor Books.

To JWB, SCFB, and KS, thank you for your love at home. LF

Publisher's Note

MANY READERS have come to love the short story through the simple characters, easy narrative voice and humor, and compelling plotting in the work of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), best known as O. Henry. His surprise endings entertain readers, even those back for a second, third, or fourth look. One can say “Gift of the Magi” in conversation about a love affair or marriage, and almost any literate person will know what is meant. It's hard to think of many other American writers whose work has been so incorporated into our national shorthand.

O. Henry was a newspaperman, skilled at hiding from his editors at deadline. He wrote to make a living and to make sense of his life. O. Henry spent his childhood in Greensboro, North Carolina, his adolescence and young manhood in Texas, and lived his mature years in New York City. In between Texas and New York, he served out a prison sentence for bank fraud in Columbus, Ohio. Accounts of the origins of his pen name vary; it may have dated from his Austin days, when he was known to call the wandering family cat, “Oh! Henry!” or been inspired by the captain of the guard in the Ohio State Penitentiary, Orrin Henry.

Porter had devoted friends in New York, and it's not hard to see why. He was charming and courteous and had an attractively gallant attitude. He drank too much and neglected his health, which caused his friends concern. He was often short of money; in a letter to a friend asking for a loan of fifteen dollars (his banker was out of town, he wrote), Porter added a postscript: “If it isn’t convenient, I’ll love you just the same.” The banker was unavailable most of Porter's life. His sense of humor was always with him.

Reportedly, Porter's last words were from a popular song, “Turn up the light, for I don’t want to go home in the dark.”

Eight years after O. Henry's death, in April 1918, the Twilight Club (founded in 1883 and later known as the Society of Arts and Letters) held a dinner in his honor at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City. His friends remembered him so enthusiastically that a group of them met at the Hotel Biltmore in December of that year to establish some kind of memorial to him. They decided to award annual prizes in his name for short-story writers, and formed a Committee of Award to read the short stories published in a year and to pick the winners. In the words of Blanche Colton Williams (1879-1944), the first of the nine series editors, the memorial was intended to “strengthen the art of the short story and to stimulate younger authors.”

Doubleday, Page & Company was chosen to publish the first volume, The O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories 1919. In 1927, the society sold all rights to the annual collection to Doubleday, Doran & Company. Doubleday published The O. Henry Prize Stories, as it came to be known, in hardcover, and from 1984-1996 its subsidiary, Anchor Books, published it simultaneously in paperback. Since 1997 The O. Henry Prize Stories has been published as an original Anchor Books paperback.

Over the years, the rules and methods of selection have varied. As of 2003, the series editor chooses twenty short stories, each one an O. Henry Prize Story. All stories originally written in the English language and published in an American or Canadian periodical are eligible for consideration.

Three jurors are appointed annually. The jurors receive the twenty prize stories in manuscript form, with no identification of author or publication. Each judge, acting independently, chooses a short story of special interest and merit, and comments on that story.

The goal of The O. Henry Prize Stories remains to strengthen the art of the short story.

To Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

WITHOUT CHEKHOV, many of us wouldn’t read or write stories as we do, for he showed us that the precise and subtle evocation of a moment can express a character's whole life. Even those who have not yet read him experience Chekhov through other writers who love him and learned from him. Writers as different from one another as Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, and V. S. Pritchett echo Chekhov's sensibility and timing.

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