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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane author Jess Walter wins O. Henry Prize for ‘The Dark’

Local author Jess Walter’s short fiction piece, “The Dark” will be published in an anthology with the other O. Henry winners for this year.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane author Jess Walter (“Beautiful Ruins,” “Cold Millions,” “Citizen Vince,” “Ruby Ridge” and more) has earned the O. Henry Prize, the oldest major prize for short fiction in America.

The annual awards, which began in 1919, seek to provide a platform for short-story writers from around the world by collecting and publishing their work annually.

Walter’s piece “The Dark,” which ran in the literary journal “Ploughshares” last summer, was one of 20 recipients.

“I was thrilled to win an O. Henry Prize,” Walter wrote in an email.

The prize used to name one winner out of the honored stories, Walter said, referencing the past work of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever, but, in recent years, they publish the finalists in an anthology instead of picking a single winner.

“I’ve been reading these anthologies – the O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories – since I was in college,” Walter said. “I’d read these great writers – Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Grace Paley – and daydream seeing my name at the end of one of those alphabetical tables of contents (Updike, Vonnegut, Walter …).

“I’ve had three stories in Best American, and now, with my first O. Henry, it still feels I’m daydreaming.”

The summer 2023 issue of Ploughshares, out of Emerson College, was guest-edited by Tom Perrotta, and featured prose by Marianne Leone, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Andre Dubus III, Fabio Morábito, Jen Trynin, Olufunke Grace Bankole, and Walter, among others.

“Most readers think of novels when they think of fiction, but like a lot of writers, I started out trying to craft a simple, decent short story, so this taps into my earliest ambitions,” Walter said. “I wasn’t sure how much I liked ‘The Dark’ when I finished it. I’d read a version at the Humanities Washington Bedtime Stories fundraiser, and I thought it was funny, but I was worried I hadn’t stuck the landing, that the story’s surprise ending – ironically, O. Henry’s specialty – didn’t quite work.

“But Tom Perotta, the editor of that issue of Ploughshares, said he loved it, and if there’s one thing I should remember, it’s to always defer to a better writer’s opinion of my work.”

“The Best Short Stories 2024: The O. Henry Prize Winners,” edited by Amor Towles and Jenny Minton Quigley, will be published in September by Vintage Books. Pre-orders for the $18 collection can be made at or on Amazon. The summer issue of “Ploughshares” can be ordered for $14 print or $7 digital at