word craft


Story Behind the Story #50: Best Shorts

Best ShortsIt was in 1846 that Edgar Allan Poe set down crit­i­cal “rules” for writ­ing the short sto­ry. (You can find them on the inter­net with ease.) Aside from writ­ing short sto­ries that are still read, (and scare read­ers) he did much to pro­pel and estab­lish the short sto­ry as an Amer­i­can form. Think of Fitzger­ald, Hem­ing­way, Updike, Stein­beck, O Hen­ry, among many oth­ers. Indeed, there was a time when short sto­ries were a sta­ple of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, find­ing pub­li­ca­tion in an aston­ish­ing array of pub­li­ca­tions, and read by mul­ti­tudes. Of course the short sto­ry has long since become inter­na­tion­al: Chekov (Russ­ian), de Mau­pas­sant (French), Trevor (Eng­lish), Munro (Cana­di­an), and many more.

For the writer they con­sti­tute a unique, and dif­fi­cult, chal­lenge. In fact, there was a time when emer­gent writ­ers were encour­aged to begin their writ­ing appren­tice­ship with short sto­ries before engag­ing with a novel.

That pro­lif­ic and abun­dant time has passed. And yet, enough short sto­ries are still writ­ten and pub­lished so that there are a cou­ple of annu­als which offer the best sto­ries for a giv­en year.

Hav­ing read (and writ­ten) short sto­ries for years, it occurred to me that there could be an annu­al of best short sto­ries writ­ten for young peo­ple. Alas, they weren’t being writ­ten (and pub­lished) in suf­fi­cient num­bers to cre­ate a reg­u­lar vol­ume. Instead, work­ing with col­league and friend Car­olyn Shute (an edi­tor) we cre­at­ed a vol­ume of short sto­ries that gath­ered lit­er­ary qual­i­ty togeth­er with­out focus­ing on a par­tic­u­lar theme. Some of the sto­ries are old, “Rip Van Win­kle,” and some are new, such as Richard Peck­’s “The Spe­cial Pow­ers of Blos­som Culp.”

What they share is excel­lence, all select­ed with an ear for read­ing aloud. With an after­word by Kather­ine Pater­son, and art by Chris Rasch­ka, the goal was to offer an anthol­o­gy that gives short sto­ry plea­sure in many fla­vors for many tastes, all designed for the young reader.

Broad­ly speak­ing, I think teach­ers (and librar­i­ans) miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to share such sto­ries with young peo­ple. Nov­els are dif­fi­cult (and frus­trat­ing) for new writ­ers to achieve, but stu­dents are quite capa­ble of writ­ing good short sto­ries. They need, how­ev­er, a tem­plate, if you will, to do so. Best Shorts: Favorite Short Sto­ries for Shar­ing attempts to sup­ply such exem­plars. Or try Sud­den Fic­tion Inter­na­tion­al: 60 Short-Short Sto­ries. Your stu­dents (and you) will be amazed.

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