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Best of Olympia 2019: Keith Eisner

Readers' Pick: Best Writer

Keith Eisner is O. Henry good. (Courtesy Keith Eisner)

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Keith Eisner's a man of many talents. He and his wife, Debe Edden, are in Olympia Family Theater's upcoming production of The Hundred Dresses. Word's getting out, though: He's also one of Olympia's pre-eminent writers. He teaches writing classes at the Olympia Senior Center, but it was his own work that attracted the attention of O. Henry Award jurors in 2017. That's when his story "Blue Dot," first published in Salamander magazine, was selected for the award and publication in the annual collection The O. Henry Prize Stories. That puts Eisner in such esteemed company as Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Parker, John Updike and Eudora Welty.

Eisner says, "It was one of the most astounding, unpredictable (bits of) good news I ever got, because you don't enter the O. Henry contest. You don't even know you're being considered." Instead, world-class jurors read thousands of stories by American and Canadian writers and pick only 20 each year for top honors. Once the news sank in, Eisner says, he thought, "They're gonna call me in the morning and say, ‘Man, there must have be some mistake. We meant some other Keith Eisner.' But they haven't called me yet, so I guess I'm in the clear."

We asked Eisner if the award boosted his self-confidence. He insists the opposite is true. "At first it froze me," he admitted. "I just felt like, ‘Oh my God, will I ever write a story that successful again?' ... After a while you get over it. You say, ‘That's in the past. Now I gotta keep writing.' ... What this means is I really have to take it seriously. ... It wasn't so much that I think I'm a great writer," he added. Instead, he thought to himself, "You're a writer, so keep writing."

To that end, Eisner's currently working on a story, or cycle of stories, about a young man coming of age in inner-city Detroit in the 1960s. Meanwhile, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017 is available at Browsers Bookshop in Olympia and at bookstores nationwide.

THE HUNDRED DRESSES, 7 p.m., Thursday-Friday; 2 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, March 15-31, Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, $15-$20, 360.570.1638,

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