Success Stories

Professor wins top fiction prize

Caitlin Horrocks

While teaching English in a fifth grade classroom in Finland, Caitlin Horrocks struggled to communicate well with her students. One student in particular made a lasting impression that inspired Horrocks’ short story, “This is Not Your City,” which includes a Russian mail-order bride living in Finland.

Now an assistant professor of writing at Grand Valley, Horrocks is one of 20 authors featured in the 2009 PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories, widely regarded as the nation’s most prestigious award for short fiction. Other authors featured in the 2009 edition include Paul Theroux, Nadine Gordimer, and Junot Diaz.

Created 90 years ago, the O. Henry Prize Stories are culled as the best contemporary short stories from those published in hundreds of literary magazines and published in a single volume each spring. Starting with this 2009 volume, the collection is being retitled The PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories, in recognition of a new alliance with the PEN American Center, an international organization founded in 1920.

“This is Not Your City” was originally published in Third Coast. A collection of Horrocks’ stories will be published under the same title in November 2009, by Eastern Washington University Press. It won the 2008 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories have also appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review and other journals, and have won awards from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Atlantic Monthly.

Horrocks has lived in Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, England, Finland, and the Czech Republic. She earned an MFA from Arizona State University in 2007 and a bachelor’s degree in English from Kenyon College in 2002. Much of her work weaves her interests in travel, language, and people in various stages of isolation into compelling stories with emotionally complex characters involved in interesting events.

“As an undergrad, I lived in the English Department, worked in the cooperative book store, on the Kenyon Review and the student literary magazine,” said Horrocks. “I always enjoyed escaping into stories, then developed an appreciation for the beauty of language and began playing with words myself. It was during my time in Finland that I realized I was more serious about writing than I thought.”

She encourages all writers to keep at their craft and stresses the importance of submitting their work for publication.

“You need to put your work out there if you want readers and recognition.”

by Mary Isca Pirkola

This story was filed with the tags: Arts, Awards, First-Rate Faculty, Literature, Published