The advance copy of "The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014" landed on my desk last week while I was out of town. The annual anthology was edited this year by Laura Furman and dedicated to Alice Munro, the Canadian writer who thrilled all lovers of the short story everywhere last year when she won the Nobel Prize. Furman herself is the author of seven books, including "The Mother Who Stayed," a collection of stories, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.
Among this year's 20 O. Henry Award winners is Minnneapolis writer Louise Erdrich, who won for "Nero," which ran in the New Yorker. Other winners include the great Irish writer William Trevor, who could probably win every year; Laura van den Berg, and Stephen Dixon.
In the notes at the back of the book, Erdrich recounts how she came to write "Nero":
"My grandparents really had a dog named Nero who escaped continually from the backyard," she writes, in part. "The misery of his life contrasted deeply with the characters of my tough but kind grandparents. I never knew what to make of Nero until suddenly, one morning, I was writing this story. ... The python lyceum, as well, was based on a real show. It is my most enthralling memory from grade two at Zimmerman Elementary School in Wahpeton" (North Dakota).
Aging grandparents, an escaping dog, a python lyceum? If you're not a New Yorker subscriber, this is a story to track down. Or wait for the collection, which pubs Sept. 9.