Favourite Australian Short Stories
by Laurie Steed
This list is personal rather than exhaustive, and with more time and space I’d include stories from Tim Richards, Josephine Rowe, Murray Bail, Elliott Perlman, Henry Lawson, Tara-June Winch, Nam Le, Paul Mitchell, Joshua Lobb, Chloe Walker, Louise Swinn, Steven Amsterdam, Peter Farrar and many more.
1. American Dreams – Peter Carey: The best short stories explore universal themes, and none are more universal than the themes laid bare in Carey’s masterpiece, still relevant more than twenty-five years after it was written.
2. Speak to Me – Paddy O’Reilly: poignant, clever and more than a little unsettling, O’Reilly’s tale of attempted connection shows fevered imagination by combining the extraordinary with the everyday.
3. My Father’s Axe – Tim Winton: My favourite Winton story is also his favourite. Why? Perhaps its because there’s an authenticity, an outpouring of sheer emotion in this story that makes it feel more like history than fiction.
4. The Australian Short Story – Ryan O’Neill: O’Neill takes a line from any number of great Australian stories to create a new one. Great idea, great execution. Not yet in print, but destined to become a classic.
5. Ain’t No Ordinary Ham – Will Elliott: For me this story marked a turning point in Australian fiction. I could cite Keret, Alexie or George Saunders here, but really Will Elliott is his own man: inventive, original and funny as hell.
6. Weightlessness – Karen Hitchcock: Weightlessness is about softening the edges in a world too harsh for some. Characters Chris and Alice gorge on the food, hoping to push down inescapable pain.
7. The List of All Answers – Peter Goldsworthy: A deceptively simple story is actually incredibly deep, most notably in its key assertion. But really, what’s this story about? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
8. What Thou and I Did, Till We Loved – Cate Kennedy: I’m not sure what Kennedy thinks of this story. For me, I go with my visceral reaction, and every time I even think of What Thou and I Did, Till We Loved, I get shivers. Incredible ending, too.
9. Scar Tissue – Patrick Cullen: This is a cancer story that’s not really about cancer, or if it is, it’s also about love, defiance, humility, and commitment. Unforgettable.
10. One Night – Wayne MacAuley: For one night, the people in a suburban cul-de-sac sleep outside. That this makes for a great story is testament to the strength of MacAuley’s writing, not to mention his imagination.
Laurie Steed is a writer, editor and reviewer. A recipient of Varuna and Rosebank fellowships in 2011, his work has appeared in various publications including the Age, Meanjin, and Sleepers Almanac. He’s a PhD Student in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australian, a fiction editor for various journals and an active member of the EWF Program Advisory Committee.
If you’re interested in short stories, have a look at our upcoming panel, “The Short Story”, part of our new series, The Library of Unwritten Stories.
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.
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.