canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Wither the short story? (The resistance starts now)

In the past year, a number of articles have appeared suggesting the short story is in decline. This page will link to articles across the web to try to track commentary on this subject. If you see something that you think should be here, let us know.

[NY Times, April 6, 2005]

The Atlantic Monthly Cuts Back on Fiction

The Atlantic Monthly magazine, which in its nearly 150-year history was among the first to publish short works of fiction by Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Henry James and Sue Miller, is eliminating the regular publication of fiction from its pages. ... The change is part of a multi-year trend of general-interest magazines publishing fewer works of fiction. 

[Lynn Coady in TDR, Nov. 2004]

I agree the publishing climate is deeply hostile to the short story right now, and even though I am always encountering people who tell me they love short fiction, my friends in the publishing industry tell me collections just "don't sell". I don't know what to say about this except to point out that Alice Munro's latest collection is a best seller and poised to win at least one of our major literary prizes this year [editor's note: Munro won the Giller; didn't win the GG].

[Canada Council, Oct. 26, 2004]

From the list of titles submitted for 2004 Governor General's Award . . . 

  • Number of fiction titles: 183
  • Number of poetry titles: 138

How many of the fiction titles are short story collections? Less than 138, surely.

[NY Times, Oct. 23, 2004]

''I've tried to write novels,'' Alice Munro says, sounding slightly annoyed with her own intractable methods. ''They turn into strange, hybrid stories.'' And then, an almost imperceptible note of defiance enters the conversation, as though she were having an argument with the powers that be, whoever they be, with all those who would tell her how to behave or how to write: ''I haven't read a novel that I didn't think couldn't have been a better story."

[Research into the current state of the short story (UK)]

Arts Council England and the Scottish Arts Council have co-funded a research project to establish the current state of the short story in the UK.

[from Greg Hollingshead's website]

Interview April 2004 by Kelly Jane Torrance.

K.T: There seem to be fewer and fewer venues to publish short stories. Women's magazines, for example, used to publish stories, and most of them don't any more. Venues like the Saturday Evening Post no longer exist. Why is this the case? Are people just less interested in reading short fiction?

G.H.: I think this has been the case for over fifty years, and the reason is TV. Mass-magazine-market short fiction was, whether literary or “commercial,” pretty journalistic, in the sense that it was published for its pertinence to the current lifestyles—or wished-for lifestyles—of the middle-class readership of the day. In that sense, it was doing the same thing the nonfiction articles were doing.

[from BookNinja, Nov. 2003]

"The current publishing environment is hostile towards the short story. Writer after writer will tell you that publisher after publisher have taken to rejecting short story collections outright because of the form. “We just can’t sell short story collections” has become the ubiquitous line in every rejection letter" (Jonathan Bennett).

[from Doublethink, May 2004]

"Looking for proof of life in that American institution, the short story, can seem like a fool's errand. Few magazines publish short stories. Few Americans read them—you won't find any collections in the New York Times bestseller lists. Even those in the short story business don't seem to want to talk about the short story" (Kelly Jane Torrance).

[from NY Times, August 25, 2004]

"A couple of generations' worth of people - a vast and somewhat underemployed army - ... have been trained to write competent but profoundly uninspired short fiction that is unread except by other writers of short fiction and by the people who hire them to instruct yet more people in this arcane little craft" (Charles McGrath).

[from, 2000] In your introduction [to The Best American Short Stories of the Century], you also seem a little pessimistic about the future of the short story. "My firm impression," you write, "is that in my lifetime the importance of short fiction as a news-bearing medium--bringing Americans news of how they live, and why--has diminished." What do you think has most conspicuously filled that place? Television? Movies? The Internet?

John Updike: Well, all of the above. I do think short stories used to tell people how other people lived, and in a surprising and edifying way. Now many readers turn toward celebrity anecdotes for narrative. In a way, you could argue that the National Enquirer is the real successor to Story magazine. But in a story, at least, you have to make the acquaintance of the characters, and that requires some imaginative work--so it's easier to satisfy your human curiosity with the vehicle of the celebrity scandal.

[from The Age (Australia), August 24, 2004]

"There are certain standard topics at any writers’ festival and the future of the short story is one of them. This year Frank Moorhouse, Wayne Macauley, John Murray and Eva Sallis give the topic a good airing. Short stories obviously remain very popular, judging by the number of bums on seats, but, as Moorhouse says, there are no ready answers to the crisis facing the form. There is a lack of outlets, he says, quoting Dr Johnson saying the marketplace is liberating for writers. “But is it liberating for the short story?” he wonders. Murray, whose stories are published to acclaim in the US, has a point when he says that in the US stories are a way for publishers to find new talent and voices. Sallis puts it another way. A short story is a bit like tantric sex in five minutes" (Jason Steger).

[The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story, 1998]

Today's short story writers are testing the boundaries of short fiction through minimalist works; extended short story cycles; narrative nonfiction forms, such as histories, memoirs, and essays; and even stories created interactively with readers on the computer. Short story critics, in turn, are viewing the short story from the perspective of genre, history, cultural studies, and even cognitive science.

[Momaya Press, March 11, 2004]

A recent survey, conducted by the Mslexia journal, found that over two-thirds of the 1,238 writers who took part in the survey are producing short stories, making it by far the most popular genre - way ahead of poetry, novels, and journalism. 

[Kurt and Me, 1999]

"In 1959, Sirens of Titan was published, but the future of the short story began looking grim. The market dried up as magazines disappeared and the public at large began looking more and more to novels. Vonnegut decided that he had better switch to writing novels if he wanted to keep himself afloat. His experiences of the past few years helped mold his writing, and he followed up Canary in a Cat House (1961), a collection of his short stories, with Mother Night (1962)" (Shawn Rider.)








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