Friday, May 5, 2023
Naomi Shuyama-Gómez ’18/M.A. ‘20 has won an O. Henry Award for Short Fiction, 2023.
The O. Henry Award is an annual American award given to “short stories of exceptional merit” and “is the oldest major prize for short fiction in America."
According to Penguin Random House, which has published the O. Henry stories again this year through Anchor Books, the O. Henry Prize "has been awarded annually since 1919 (with a break in 2020)” and “seeks to provide a prominent platform for short story writers from all around the world and at all points in their careers."
The publishing house further notes the origin of the award, which was named after what may well have been the most famous writer of short stories in the United States.
The prize's namesake, Willian Sydney Porter—better known by his pen name, O. Henry—was an American short story writer whose best-known tale, 'The Gift of the Magi,' matched selflessness with love in a famously heartbreaking twist ending. After his death, in 1910, Porter’s friends created the O. Henry Prize in his honor. The annual collection was a community act that put authors at its center from the start.
Naomi Shuyama-Gómez won the award for 'The Commander’s Teeth," which was published by the Michigan Quarterly Review (Vol. 60, Iss. 4), Fall 2021.
"The O'Henry Award is one of the most prestigious annual awards for the short story, and Naomi's inclusion in this year's anthology is a well-deserved honor for an excellent writer," said Professor Nathan Oates, director of the Creative Writing program at Seton Hall. “This award is, I'm sure, just the beginning of many literary successes to come.”
MQR introduces the work of Shuyama-Gómez by noting,
In ‘The Commander’s Teeth,’ the protagonist—a dentistry student named Emilia—is confronted with the possibility of vengeance. As the title suggests, Emilia finds herself in close proximity with the teeth of a feared commander. ‘A mouth is like an autobiography,’ Shuyama-Gómez writes, with her startling ability to turn details about dentistry into polished gems of beauty and despair. A charged encounter unfolds between Emilia and the FARC commander in the Colombian landscape of the 90s, yet the story is less about the commander and more about Emilia’s fraught intimacy with the local Lorenzo. Though the relationship is presented, at first, as an arrangement of convenience, the story betrays more affection than Emilia cares to admit.
Violence and terrible loss haunt the story, skulking around its edges. Attempts at both repair and destruction coexist, the boundaries between them blurring. Every moment teeters within its own precarity, as the reader feels the fragility of everything—the no-frills sex between Emilia and Lorenzo, the memory of Emilia’s old lover whose name spills like ‘a glow over everything,’ the mouths ‘like open graves,’ the bodies that wash up on the river’s shores to be mourned by strangers. This story outlines each absence with painstaking detail, constructing a world of missing parts and phantoms heavy with grief.
A sense of oppressive decay permeates and bookends the narrative, and yet, the kindness and vitality of ordinary people shine through in Shuyama-Gómez’s thoughtful writing. One injured man describes the rubber pellet that hit his eye as ‘a red flower forced to bloom open.’ In this story, even minor characters have the opportunity to speak, to write their own lives. I chose ‘The Commander’s Teeth’ not only for its deft plot; its play with collective and personal memory; and its sensuous, tactile language; but also for the force of its longing. Longing for what, exactly?
We never find out—the story rests in a place of ambiguity and irresolution, of surrender to the world. The commander, post-extraction, wonders ‘how these wounds can be good,’ and we wonder with him, left in the tender gaps where his teeth used to be.
You can read an excerpt from the story as well as see and hear Shuyama-Gómez read from her work here.
You can read “The Commander’s Teeth,” winner of the 2023 O. Henry Prize for Short Fiction, in its entirety (SHU Libraries log-in) here.
Categories: Arts and Culture