Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wherefore Art Thou, Short Stories?

When I was growing up, short stories were everywhere.

You might remember them, too. Fictional short stories of a point in time and space where some hero or heroine had an epiphany. Women's magazines printed them in each edition, from Family Circle to Redbook to Ladies Home Journal.

Some of these magazines had contests to find the best short story writers.

My mother brought home magazines full of short romance stories. True Story and True Confessions. I read them just I read everything else that came before me. Intently, with concentration, inhaling the words.

Some writers, like Sherwood AndersonVirginia Woolf and Kurt Vonnegut, are well known for their short stories.

Who are the short story writers of today? Who are the contemporary short story writers?

Locally I only know of one famous short story writer, and that is Kurt Rheinheimer, editor of The Roanoker magazine. His short stories, which I understand are often about young men and baseball, have been printed in numerous anthologies.

But most people . . . particularly those who purchase their reading material at Krogers . . . don't pick up anthologies. So the best short story writers are going unread.

I have never been a story snob. I can get as much pleasure from a short story in a romance magazine as I can from a well-written piece in an anthology. I can get as much pleasure from a genre book as something pronounced "literature," for that matter. Which is not to say some things are not better than the other - they are. I am probably remiss for lumping them all together, anthologies with romance stories.

But where has the short story gone, regardless of content? True Story is still available - I just looked it up - but I haven't seen that magazine on the stands around here in 20 years. Occasionally a short story appears magically in Red Book or some other women's magazine, but not often.

Some time ago I delved into the world of "fan fiction" and discovered many short story writers there. These authors take a character from TV or movies and then go on to write stories about them. You've seen this happen with books, too - those lines of Star Trek novels, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or whatever. Characters whose existence continues in the minds of others.

I wonder if the Internet has eaten the short story? The form seems suited for online reading - not too long, able to read it all in one sitting before your bottom goes number. But are people reading them online?

A short story that I remember from my past that I especially liked was Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. You don't read things like that anymore. We read many short stories in school when I was a teenager. Do they still teach short stories? I don't know.

If you have short story author recommendations, I'd love to have them.


  1. I don't think regular publishers like the form, while literary magazines are more poetry oriented. If an anthology of short stores is published, it is likely to be of stories by an established novelist. Publishers aren't prepared to risk investing in a writer who is a short story teller by preference and does not have a "name" they can market. Margaret Atwood has a some good collections out, though, as does Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Carter, Ursula K. Le Guin and many others.

  2. I remember reading "A Rose for Emily" in college and loved it.

    I think perhaps a lot of short stories are now hiding in obscure literary magazines. I miss seeing them in regular magazines—I remember when Ladies' Home Journal had them, and Redbook, McCall's, and others.

    When I was a young teen, I read True Confessions and others.

  3. I like the series (it comes out once a year) New Stories from the South. And, of course, my favorite short story writers are from the South as well. I like Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Doris Betts, etc. But my very favorite short story writer is Tim Gautreaux. His stories are literary, but funny. And there is almost always some sense of hope in them, no matter how small.

  4. Yeah, and what ever happened to Readers' Digest? I was just thinking about that recently.

    Anita, have you ever listened to The Moth podcast? You can either download it to an Ipod or listen online. will get you there. These are extemporaneous "tellings" of stories by their authors. It fills my need for short stories.

  5. I remember reading short stories all the time in school growing up. I enjoyed them a lot. I can't recall who authored them, but I wish I could. They would be fun to read again.

    We subscribe to Reader's Digest. It's one of my husband's favorite magazines. Lots of good stories still in there.

    I have some short story books in my collection, but they are mostly ghost stories from Virginia.

  6. I used to read short stories. My Grandma loved mysteries and she got Ellery Queen Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Magazine. They both had great short stories that I read when I visited her.


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