You'll recognize this tender Christmas story. Deeply in love, but lacking money to buy for gifts for each other, a man and woman sell their dearest possessions. He pawns his watch to buy a set of hair combs for his wife at the same time she is trading her freshly shorn locks for a watch-chain for him.
"The Gift of the Magi" started out as a simple short story O. Henry wrote to meet a deadline for Joseph Pulitzer's weekly magazine, New York World, in 1905. Although it became a holiday classic, its author hardly benefited. Born William Sydney Porter in North Carolina in 1862, O. Henry had begun writing stories while he was in prison for embezzlement, and he died 12 years later, broke and alone, in 1910.
In 1918, the Society of Arts and Sciences and Doubleday publishers established the O. Henry Awards, a yearly anthology of the year's best short stories. Recently, the awards committee has also awarded an O. Henry Magazine Award to the magazine with the best representation of the year's best stories. With three stories in the current anthology, The Atlantic Monthly won top honors for 2000. Runners up included DoubleTake, Esquire, McSweeney's, The Southern Review and, no surprise here, The New Yorker. In the awards' 80 years, The New Yorker has placed 160 stories. Harper's Magazine and The Atlantic Monthly have each placed more than 100.
In applauding The Atlantic Monthly's commitment to short literary fiction, the O. Henry committee praised editor Michael Kelly and senior editor C. Michael Curtis and noted the magazine's Web site, Atlantic Unbound, a successful e-zine of print-version stories, interviews with writers and unpublished fiction.
Joyce Carol Oates (28 O. Stories!) and John Updike (with William Faulkner a close second) are the reigning queen and king of literary short fiction. In the last dozen years, local authors have received O. Henry notice, too: Allan Gurganus, Catherine Petroski, Robert Morgan, Elizabeth Cox and Elizabeth Spencer each have made the short list for publication.
Polishing up a story of your own? Write what you know and send it out! A number of local magazines are consulted by the O. Henry Awards' readers. Among them are The Carolina Quarterly, The Greensboro Review, The North Carolina Literary Review, Parting Gifts, Southern Exposure and The Sun.
While Wired magazine deletes most of its literary short-fiction submissions, it will get your attention in this impulse-driven, binge-shopping week. Started eight years ago as the chronicler of the "digital revolution," Wired has become the catalog of what those revolutionaries want to buy, wear, drive and smell like.
But the magazine's end-of-year, send-off issue is a grabber. The cool, Grinch-colored cover is pressure sensitive, and asks readers to "Touch me all over." Mood paper. Yes! So it's not about content after all? Well, I couldn't resist playing with it when I should have been wrapping presents.
Best feel-good DIY zine story of the year? Let former (for 2 months) UNC-Chapel Hill law student, Everett Rand, tell it. "I'm living out in the country up in Vermont now, in a run-down cabin, writing, putting out my zine, Mineshaft. I don't care about the money, but I did get to talk to Lawrence Ferlinghetti once. One day I walked to the end of the road to get the mail and there was this big package from France with cool drawings and lettering all over. It was from R. Crumb. He liked what I was publishing and sent along a pile of drawings for future issues."
Just out, with some of the best Crumb in years, is issue five of Rand's Mineshaft. Pocket-sized, full of poetry, pen-and-ink sketches and a treatise on political prisoner, Tommy Trantino, it's a deal at $4.
And finally, ol' Bob Dylan's winking at you. Did you miss him at the store? The hottest music zine of the year was the one-off edition of Q Dylan from England. It hit stateside newsstands in mid-November (and promptly disappeared), 148 pages of "wall-to-wall Bobness." Complete with a pull-out album guide, rare photos, curious "reviews" of Dylan's relationships, lyrics and myths--this is bigger than PlayStation 2.