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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Short Story Month

May is Short Story Month, apparently. I actually had no idea that was the case and only found out when I caught this blog by Ilana Teitelbaum on the Huffington Post which begins, "In honor of the last week of Short Story Month..."

I'm aware, of course, that April is National Poetry Month, so following it up with Short Story Month seems like the right thing to do for a number of reasons: both
forms are about compression and precision, saying as much as possible in not really the fewest words as much as the right ones. Both can be fully enjoyed by a reader in a single sitting, though the worlds they open up, when the work is done well, stay with a reader much longer than it takes to actually read the text. And both are, as they're sometimes called, "incorruptible" as forms...meaning, there's little commercial interest in either. You can write what you want rather than having to worry about such niggling things as market demands or market reception. Or, say, getting paid.

There's been a lot said about this last part here lately, wondering what the (allegedly) diminishing market for short fiction--and the changing literary marketplace in general--means for the future of the form. Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Geonoways published his thoughts on the decline of the (print) literary magazine, and who might be to blame for that, in the sensationally-titled "The Death of Fiction" in Mother Jones, which you can read here. Others have looked toward online publishing as a sustainable future of the story story, as is suggested in this conversation (with Rick Moody and Rick Rofihe) over at American Short Fiction's website.

Still others are looking toward new media, and new content delivery systems, as a way of keeping the short story form vital and viable. Among them is Electric Literature, a new online journal whose editors, Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum, embrace rather than fear the technological revolution and what it means for short fiction:
We're tired of hearing that literary fiction is doomed. Everywhere we look, people are reading—whether it be paperbooks, eBooks, blogs, tweets, or text messages. So, before we write the epitaph for the literary age, we thought, let’s try it this way first: select stories with a strong voice that capture our readers and lead them somewhere exciting, unexpected, and meaningful. Publish everywhere, every way: paperbacks, Kindles, iPhones, eBooks, and audiobooks. Make it inexpensive and accessible. Streamline it: just five great stories in each issue. Be entertaining without sacrificing depth. In short, create the thing we wish existed.
None of this is to say that I think online or electronic is the only way to go, even if it increasingly looks like where literary journals are headed (evidenced by Shenandoah's recent announcement that, after sixty years in print, they were headed to an online format). Instead the debate, and the experiments, remind us of the continued value of the short form, the powers of the form...and that it's a form we should be not just "saving" but celebrating.

That's ultimately what makes Short Story Month such a great idea, too...and I hope the idea catches on. So I celebrated by going out and picking up a copy of Amy Hempel's The Collected Stories, which had been sitting on my mental Must Buy list for far too long. (And note, please, the progression: a blog post I stumbled upon led me to a few Google searches and a few online sites and, then, out the door to my local brick-and-mortar bookstore to pick up a volume of short stories. It can work that way, I promise.)

You can celebrate Short Story Month by taking a look at Amy Hempel's story "The Harvest" over at Pif magazine. And then maybe going out and buying a book of stories that's been sitting on your mental Must Buy list.

PS--The idea for May as Short Story Month comes from editor and gentleman Dan Wickett, who runs the Emerging Writers Network blog and is the Executive Director of Dzanc Books. It seems quite a number of places celebrated this year. I hope the celebration gets even bigger for the next.

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