When it comes to charts and long lists, I’d rather leave those up to someone else. Please go to this post by Wendy Wimmer and this post by Perpetual Folly to look at the charts for Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Winners I’m referring to (copy and paste murders it).
It’s a hard market for fiction and winning fiction prizes. First, you gotta publish a story in some reputable journal. Then you gotta hope your story was the best for that particular year. Then you gotta hope that the journal that published your story chooses to nominate it for one of the fiction prizes (Best American, Pen/O. Henry, etc.). Then you gotta hope and pray and dance for the prize-winning gods that the contest judges select your story and it’s published in one of their anthologies. Winning a fiction prize in one of those anthologies is stellar. Not only does it look good for you, but it also looks good for the journal.
We at The Pinch nominate our writers, poets, and essayists for these prizes and, as you can see from the Pushcart list, some of the work we choose gets into these fancy anthologies.
While no one I can find did any sort of chart on the 2011 Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories, here’s my own (forgive the imperfect spacing):
Electric Literature 1
The New Yorker 1
The Kenyon Review 3
The Paris Review 2
One Story 1
The American Scholar 1
Narrative Magazine 2
Virginia Quarterly Review 1
PEN America 1
The Threepenny Review 1
Oxford American 1
It’s obvious from these lists that a prize favors a particular journal. Best American Short Stories has included over 111 stories from The New Yorker since 2005. The Pushcart Prize for Fiction has favored Ploughshares the most out of the last 10 years. I have no idea on the statistics for the Pen/O. Henry Prize Winners over the last 10 years, but this particular year, the most stories were taken from The Kenyon Review.
While submitting is a luck of the draw, if you want to win a particular contest (because hey, that means accolades galore), you also have to take into account which journals these prizes might favor and send your work off to those prime journals. The listings were also surprising to me because some of these journals (like Zoetrope: All-Story), I was woefully ignorant of. I also had no idea that Conjunctions was making so many ripples on the Pushcart front.
It’s also interesting to notice trends when it comes to these prizes. This year, many of The Pen/O. Henry Prize winners were set primarily in another country (“Ice,” “Pole, Pole,” “Bed Death,” “Nothing of Consequence,” “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You,” and “The Restoration of the Villa…”). Some also had a sci-fi slant that was surprising (“The Black Square,” “Sunshine,” and “Diary of an Interesting Year”).
Travel fiction, in general, really seems to be on the rise. There’s a clear sense of place (important! important! more here) and its influence on human relationships. “Ice” is set on a cruise ship traveling to Antarctica (I misspelled this probably four times before giving up and letting spellcheck correct it), “Pole, Pole” in Kenya, “Bed Death” in Malaysia. If you’ve traveled somewhere and have some memory of a place, write a story including it. Throw in some lovers. Make them have some problems (also a trend in this year’s Pen/O. Henry).
While trends may last a minuscule length of time, The New Yorker has been publishing straight-up from travel narratives/stories written by immigrants for quite some time. It might be time, fiction writers, to try to become trendy if you’d like a stab at some of these prizes.