Twenty authors are chosen for the award each year based on stories published in an American or Canadian periodical and originally written in English. Lynn’s piece, “Divergence,” appeared in the 2015 spring/summer issue of the Oregon-based fiction journal Glimmer Train.
Lynn has written stories set in England, India and Washington, D.C. Several, including “Divergence,” are set in a small college town in Ohio. “Divergence” is based on a real bicycle accident. “I use it to examine how fragile we humans are — not necessarily physically but psychologically,” he said. “The person in the story has the bike accident and is physically OK, but he loses his sense of self. You realize that this brain that is ‘us’ is so fragile.”
Anchor Books chooses and publishes The O. Henry Prize Stories, with essays by the three jurors who pick their favorite story out of the 20.
Lynn’s writing mentor was Peter Taylor ’40 H’71, who studied at Kenyon with Review founder John Crowe Ransom H’57 and then taught at the University of Virginia. Taylor himself won the O. Henry Award in 1959 for his piece “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time,” published in the Kenyon Review. “My first thought was that I wish he was still alive to see this,” Lynn said.
Lynn has been editor of the Review since 1994 and teaches workshops in fiction writing and courses such as “Contemporary and Postcolonial Literature” and “British and American Modernism.” In 1995-96 he was a senior Fulbright scholar in India.
He is the author of the novel “Wrestling with Gabriel” and a collection of short stories. Because of his duties with the Review and teaching, Lynn said, “It takes me a long time to write. It takes me three to four months to write a 20-page story. So I’m writing one or two stories a year, mostly in the summertime.”
The notice of the O. Henry Award surprised him, since he prefers other stories he has written. But he is fascinated by how people react to stories in different ways. “What separates the arts from other disciplines is that they are not just about intellect; they involve emotion,” he said. “If a piece of art doesn’t involve emotion, it’s not going to work.”
William Sydney Porter published more than 300 short stories under the pen name “O. Henry” — including a number of short stories he wrote while imprisoned at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. His career in New York City featured the classic stories “The Ransom of Red Chief” and “The Gift of the Magi” before his death in 1910.
The award in his honor was first presented in 1919. Past winners include Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Wallace Stegner, Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever.