Hayden's Ferry Review


Old Anthologies don't die, they just team up with PEN

The new PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories is out. This volume's new association with the PEN American Center comes at a good time for the award, which has undergone a creative struggle with format in recent years. William Abraham, who edited the collection for three decades until 1996, governed with a distinctive editorial voice and an apparent preference for bleakness that could leave a reader of the volume depressed for days. After he retired, the series became lost in a literary wilderness for a while, with different editors and experimentations with the format. Though it could be argued that it was time for a change, the confusion that reigned afterward was no kind of improvement: One of the editors, Larry Dark, included a story in the 2000 volume by his wife, Alice Elliot Dark and nonsensical statements like this were issued on the publisher’s FAQ page as the series tried to stop its slow skid:
"Why was there no O. Henry Prize Stories 2004?

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005 was published in January rather than the traditional date of October. There was always a difference between the year in which the stories were published in a magazine and the year in which The O. Henry Prize Stories was published, but it may appear that we skipped considering stories from 2004. In fact, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006 will be based on stories originally written in English and published in Canada and the United States in 2004."
Now that PEN, the literature and author advocate group, has joined with the collection in much the same way it partners with PEN/Hemingway and PEN/Faulkner perhaps the collection will enjoy some stability. The caveat being the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation are not for profit entities and Anchor Books is a division of Random House owned by huge corporate media conglomerate Bertelsmann.
That and the oddity that the author “jurors” do not actually choose the stories for any given edition will insure that if the series has some stability in format, it will remain idiosyncratic. The jurors choose their favorites from series editor Linda Furman’s selection of twenty stories and introduce that story with an essay. That seems to be a waste in editorial talent of a group of great writers that have “juried” thus far, but I’m glad the series is continuing on, whatever the format. And there are a few stories that strike me as distinctly Abraham-like in their selection. If she is truly trying to pick stories that William might pick, then let’s hope she takes the lesson of his continuity as well.