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FSU Professor wins top berth in O’Henry Prize Stories 2005 Anthology

A Florida State University professor has earned a literary honor widely regarded as one of the nation’s most prestigious achievements in short fiction.

Elizabeth Stuckey-French, an associate professor of English and member of faculty in FSU’s Creative Writing Program, has seen her coming-of-age narrative “Mudlavia” chosen as the lead story in “The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005” collection.

“The English department is extremely proud of Elizabeth’s accomplishment in winning an O. Henry Award for her story originally published in “The Atlantic.” Like the rest of her fiction, this story seduces the reader with its apparent quaintness, then startles with insights that cut to the heart,” said Hunt Hawkins, the department’s chair. “The novel she is completing based on “Mudlavia” will surely carry her to the top tier of American fiction writers.”

Stuckey-French and her fellow O. Henry Prize Stories authors were formally recognized during a Jan. 29 ceremony in New York City.

“Mudlavia” is told by its young boy protagonist, who comes to terms with difficult truths during a 1916 sojourn with his mother amidst mud baths at a cure-promoting health spa. Series editor Laura Fuhrman selected Stuckey-French’s story for the 85th edition of the anthology, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo (“Empire Falls”), one of three acclaimed writers on the O. Henry Prize jury, chose it as his favorite from among the twenty stories in the 2005 collection.

Russo described “Mudlavia” as having the emotional and intellectual weight of a longer fictional work. He spoke of its “fond, gentle humor,” and “the heartbreaking, hard-won wisdom of its narrator, who comes to understand that ‘life eventually takes away everything it gives.'”

“I’m delighted,” said Stuckey-French. “Winning an O. Henry award is a terrific honor, but then being named by Richard Russo as one of the judge’s selections is really thrilling and unexpected.”

Her previous publications include short stories such as “Junior,” short-listed for the 1997 O. Henry awards and for Best American Short Stories of 1997, and books “Mermaids on the Moon” and “The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa and Other Stories.”

Stuckey-French received a master of fine arts degree in 1992 from the Iowa Writers Workshop and has taught at FSU since 1999.

“I’m surrounded by such enormously talented, award-winning colleagues here at FSU,” she said. “My recent honor reflects the rewards of working and writing in such an environment.”

The FSU English department is home to graduate and undergraduate degree programs in literature, rhetoric and composition and creative writing. Literature professors have received some of the most prestigious fellowships available and several have earned national recognition for their works of literary scholarship. The top-ranked Creative Writing Program — home to Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners and the author of the world’s most adopted creative writing text — is the only one with inclusions in every edition of the annual anthology “Best New American Voices.”