The Short Story is Dead! Long Live the Short Story!

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm
Virginia Quarterly Review

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For as long as Google remembers, people have been writing articles offering proof that the short story is not dead.

In 1969, The New York Times declared that: “the death of the short story is announced as regularly as the decay of morals.”

In what appears to be a wire story from 1973 (the article appeared in both The Times-News of Hendersonville, NC and The Sarasota Herald News) it was reported that: “the reports of the death of the short story are greatly exaggerated.”

In 1988, Fred Lutz of the Toledo Blade said that “rumors that started about 10 years ago about the death of short story were definitely premature. The genre is alive and well in living in America.”

I suspect the problem isn’t with the short story.

Just look at the literary landscape and it’s dotted with people writing stories that people are reading: Wells Tower, John Grisham, Jhumpa Lahiri.

That’s not the issue.

The problem, I think, has to do with the evolution of the writer as celebrity.

While it’s probably always been true to come extent that there are people who think because they have access to a pen or a keyboard, they can be a Writer, that seems to have evolved into people thinking they can now be a Famous Writer. And with that there seems to be a growing sense of entitlement.

Just read this ridiculous piece on Huffington Post by someone who suggests (facetiously, I can only hope though I suspect not) that there be a literary draft in the style of football’s.

“Personally, I’d settle for $100,000 annually, for which I will absolutely produce a brand-new novel each year,” he promises.

The writer suggests it’s a system rooted in history but does anyone really think that Mozart, da Vinci, any number of people wouldn’t have created their art if they hadn’t had benefactors.

Yes, money is always nice but the best writers don’t write because of the paycheck, they do it because they can’t imagine doing anything else.

In a recent piece for Mother Jones, Ted Genoways, the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, points out that there are hundreds of MFA programs on universities producing thousands of “writers” yet the average literary magazine prints 1.500 copies.

“In short, no one is reading all this newly produced literature—not even the writers themselves,” he writes.

As a result, literary magazines are on the ropes: Triquarterly was reinvented as a student-run online publication; New England Review has until next year to become self-sufficient, Southern Review has been having problems.

It’s been suggested that much as April is National Poetry Month, we should make May National Short Story Month and just as I suggested poetry month should be celebrated by adopting a poet by subscribing to a literary magazine or similar gesture… I say, the same should be true for May.

If you want people to read you, the least you can do is make sure you read other people — and pay for it: subscribe to a magazine, buy a book, even go on ITunes.

As The Guardian pointed out, the ITunes-ization of short fiction is here.

It’s not a perfect world but people have to stop acting like they’re entitled to support.

Help others if you expect to get help.

As Genoways wrote: “Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ’s sake, write something we might want to read.”

  1. I receive The New Yorker every week, year in, year out – except for the cool special issue New Yorkers – those magazines are double the fun and you have to skip a week before you get your next one. There is at least one short story each week and one of the special double mags is actually a short story edition – jam-packed. A guy, or gal – the ladies like The New Yorker – does not have to travel far to buy a good short story. Colin, you could edit short stories for T/S, put them online weekly and reap the reward my friend.
    Tom Medlicott

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