The Great American Short Story


April 30, 2013

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Who are the great short story writers in American literature?  What makes the nature of a short story different from a novel?  These intriguing questions and more will be answered in Abby Goode’s upcoming class “The Best of American Short Fiction”.  We recently sat down with Abby to discuss this interesting topic:

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WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your class?

Abby Goode: While we will read these stories closely for literary features–imagery, tone, irony, for example–we will also contextualize them within a broad frame of American literary history and its major movements. So we will start to understand the evolution of short fiction within the broader context of American romanticism, modernism, and beyond.

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We will also look at some contemporary adaptations of some of these stories in film and media. Specifically, we will look at the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe and discuss the comedic culture of blondes in the twentieth century.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about short fiction in comparison to the other literary genres?

Goode: In the American literary tradition, there is an endless array of the types of short fiction one can find–detective stories, ghost stories, psychological thrillers, romances, tragedies, regional tall tales, anything–you name it! Beyond that, the genre, because it is shorter forces more rapid character development and is often dense with meaning and difficult to unpack. Novels, for instance, offer more “clues” as to the meaning and historical context of the text. So I like to think of short stories as little gems or treasures of literary value, but also as challenges for the reader.

WIH Reporter: Is the short story still alive and well today?

Goode: Yes. Don DeLillo’s Pafko at the Wall is more a novella than a short story, and Julia Alvarez is currently writing short fiction, such as A Cafecito Story. The late Kurt Vonnegut was known for his short stories, especially Report on the Barnhouse Effect, as is Stephen King, who continues to write short stories and novellas today.

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WIH Reporter: What current writers have been influenced by the ones you are spotlighting?

Goode: The obvious one to include is Toni Morrison, who has been said to have been influenced by Faulkner’s high modernist style. Morrison undoubtedly has her own style, though. Beyond that, however, I’m not sure I can answer that– because I don’t know for sure who officially declares Hemingway, Faulkner, Hawthorne, Melville and beyond their influences. But I would guess that contemporary novelists and short story writers like Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, and Alice Walker have been influenced by all of these writings as they find their own voice and style.

WIH Reporter: What books would we find on your night table?

Goode: American novelist Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and Brazilian postmodern writer Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star (1977). I’m looking forward to reading Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003) next.

This afternoon course (1:00pm-3:00pm) begins on June 6th, 2013 and runs for four weeks