Though they’re faster (to read) than a speeding bullet and have been written by many of literature’s greatest names, the short story is somewhat of a minority interest.In 2004, a UK Arts Council survey found that less than half of self-described “medium” readers “sometimes” picked up a book of short stories. Here at the NSW Writers Centre, we think it’s about time that we changed all that. So, if you’re one of the many people who rarely, if ever, picks up a volume of short fiction, grab a pen, a pad of paper, and start taking some notes. Here are the highlights from The Guardian’s comprehensive list of short fiction authors you just have to read, “A Brief Survey of The Short Story”:
1. Anton Chekhov: “My determination to avoid a straightforward recitation of recognised greats notwithstanding… I couldn’t justify starting with anyone else because for me he’s the uncontestable father of the modern short story, both by dint of bridging 19th-century realism and 20th-century experimentation and because his stories are some of the best that have ever been written. ”
2. HP Lovecraft: “Lovecraft’s fictional oeuvre – more than 50 stories written between 1905 and his death in 1937 – is unremittingly bleak. Heavily influenced by, among others, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany and Algernon Blackwood, Lovecraft went several rungs lower than his forebears by eradicating any shred of optimism from his tales of what he called “cosmic horror”.”
3. Mavis Gallant: “No living author seems to me less deserving of the term “writer’s writer” and its implication of remote obscurity than Mavis Gallant. In Michael Ondaatje’s words, “among writers she is a shared and loved and daunting secret”, and it seems a telling detail that while she remains too little known, those who read her tend to move, as I did, from ignorance to devotion with uncommon haste.”
4. Ryunosuke Akutagawa: “Using limpid prose to blend traditional and modernist storytelling, Ryunosuke Akutagawa is an under-acknowledged master”
5. Raymond Carver: “With or without minimalist editing, the humanity of Raymond Carver’s storytelling puts him in the same league as Chekhov.”
6. Julian Maclaren-Ross: “Best known as one of Fitzrovia’s most memorable drinkers, Julian Maclaren-Ross wrote brilliant stories between his binges”
7. Etgar Keret: “His startlingly unorthodox – and very brief – fictions are some of the best in Israeli literature.”
8. Robert Walser: “A tortured life provided the material for a very bleak, sometimes very funny master of the form.”
9. Grace Paley: “The late Grace Paley’s multi-layered evocations of New York seethe with the beautiful, twisting complexities of that never-sleeping city.”
10. Katherine Mansfield: “Although some of her work is stunningly bad, the best of it ranks alongside the greats.”
Columnist Chris Power provided forty other authors whom he considered to be the greatest writers of short fiction of all time. Honourable mentions went to eminents such as Kafka, Tolstoy and Kipling, while Power also recommends lesser-known authors such as Eudora Welty, Lydia Davis and Saki. My own personal recommendation is fairly middle-of-the-road, but given with the utmost sincerity: Alice Munro, who won the Man Booker International in 2009.
If you’re interested in the short story, check out our upcoming panel, “The Short Story”, part of our new series, The Library of Unwritten Stories.
The Library of Unwritten Stories is an eight week program which alternates between panels and writing group meetings.
The NSW Writers’ Centre and the City of Sydney Libraries are teaming up to present The Library of Unwritten Stories, a dynamic new program for young writers aged under 30 with a chance to establish a new writers’ group. The importance of Writers’ Groups – small meetings where writers can read and comment on each other’s work – is often underestimated. This will be a chance for young writers to meet each other, explore the potential for collaborative projects, be mentored by industry professionals and develop their own work.
The Library of Unwritten Stories will alternate weekly between talks from industry guests and the writing group meetings. Talks will focus on the short story and each guest will set a writing challenge for the next week’s meeting.
When: Wednesday evenings: September 5, 19 & 26; October 3, 10, 17, 24 & 31, 6-7pm
To book a place please visit the Library of Unwritten Stories Eventbrite page.