Akashic Celebrates Short Story Month
May is Short Story Month, and Akashic is celebrating by featuring one short story on our website every business day in May. Stories range from a selection from Demons in the Spring to Mumbai Noir to The Heroin Chronicles, and we will also be continuing our Mondays Are Murder feature with a new noir story every Monday. To launch our Short Story Month celebration, we bring you a guest post from Larry Dark, director of The Story Prize and former editor of the O. Henry Awards.
Read “Get Well, Seymour!” by Joe Meno, the first story featured in our celebration, and check back every weekday for a new story to read.
In my position as director of The Story Prize, I have the privilege every year of reading hundreds of short stories, and I have the honor of listening to and speaking with the three authors we choose as finalists. I also edit and post on The Story Prize blog dozens of guest essays from short story writers on their craft, their influences, and what inspires them. I’ve been working with the short story for nearly twenty years now, and my accumulated experience has convinced me that it is an essential form of human expression with as much relevance today as ever. We live in complicated times, when communication is swift and fleeting and conclusions are easily reached and soon forgotten. Stories offer us opportunities to slow down and fathom experience in a deeper, more lasting way.
What’s so important about short stories in 2013? The same qualities that have made them important in 2012, 2011, 2010, and on back, and the same qualities that will make them important in 2014, 2015, 2016, and on ahead. Short fiction encapsulates and enlarges upon human experience as well as—if not better than—any other form of expression. The story can be a form of reportage, telling us what it’s like to live in a particular time and place, broadening the scope of our experience, and creating a more sophisticated understanding of others and ourselves.
But stories can go beyond reportage and work on different levels, conveying more subtle and enduring truths. To be sure, not every reader appreciates stories, but the short story form has a passionate and devoted following that matters. Stories aren’t as easy to decipher and digest as other narrative entertainments are, but that’s what gives them their power. They demand attention and require our participation as readers, but this experience can also be a source of intense satisfaction. The best stories can endure repeated readings, yielding different truths each time.
The story’s limitation—its brevity—is also its greatest virtue because it discourages digression and adds weight to every word and sentence. And yet, despite its limitations, the story is also an endlessly elastic form. It stands on its own, but gains by collection, often becoming greater than its parts. Of course, greatness is rare among short stories and short story collections, as it is rare elsewhere. That’s because the story, despite its simplicity, is such a difficult form to practice well. Nonetheless, it’s one that someone with talent and perseverance can sometimes master. Because that of that, and because the practice and discipline of writing a short story can be so rewarding, some of the most accomplished writers in the English language either toil in this form for most of their careers or return to it frequently. And it can be exciting to see new talents grow and bloom, as I do every year.
Periodically, the short story as a form is said to be in decline. Every so often, it is said to be enjoying a renaissance. Neither characterization, in my experience, is ever remotely accurate. New technologies don’t pose a threat to short fiction; they simply create more platforms and provide more possibilities for connection among readers and writers. The short story doesn’t need awards, but I hope they extend its reach. It doesn’t need a month, but it merits one. One day, I am certain, libraries, bookstores, and schools will join in honoring the short stories every May. Until then, sites like this and others will carry the torch. Short Story Month may be starting small, but that isn’t such a bad place to begin.
LARRY DARK has been the director of The Story Prize, an annual book award for short story collections, since 2004. Before that, he served as series editor for the O. Henry Awards for six years, and compiled, edited, and introduced three other short story anthologies.
Posted: May 1, 2013
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