For the first part of this summer — before I start work at a temporary Johns Hopkins’ job — I’m reading through multiple Best American Short Story anthologies. Each volume contains twenty stories in their entirety and mentions one hundred other distinguished stories of the past year. Around three thousand published stories are whittled down by the series editor and then the guest editor selects the final one hundred and twenty. The commercial magazines and literary journals from which the stories are chosen includes: the famous (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s), the established (The Paris Review, Agni, Ploughshares), the university-based (The Minnesota Review, The Indiana Review) the challenging (Conjunctions), and the less well known (Upstreet, Kestrel) and many, many others.
The series has been running since 1915 and has reprinted some of the finest and most widely anthologized work in American literary history. Working through the volumes from the 1980s (more on them in a later post) I noticed many writers and magazines I’d never heard of. Many of the writers were supremely accomplished; yet through various factors, including my lack of knowledge about the eighties writing scene, these writers have faded from public life. Whether through death, retirement, or literary tastes changing, other writers have taken their places.
It’s my aim to read the volumes 2010-1980 this summer. That’s 600 stories! My wish is to pick up some of the finer points of craft and gain a few answers on the eternal question: what makes a short story? And more importantly, what makes a good short story? By the time of the hundredth Best American anniversary arrives in 2015, I hope to place at least one story in that top one hundred and twenty of the year’s best.
Below I note the books I’ve read so far and the stories that leave me in awe:
Standout stories: Marlin Barton’s “Into Silence” and Maggie Shipstead’s “The Cowboy Tango.”
Standout stories: Nicol Krauss’ “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky” and Katie Chase’s “Man and Wife.”
Standout stories: Lauren Groff’s “L. Debard and Aliette: A Love Story” and Mary Gordon’s “Eleanor’s Music.”
Standout stories: Andrea Barrett’s “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds” and Don DeLillo’s “The Angel Esmeralda.”
Interestingly, there was one writer — Andrew Cozine — in this edition who seems to have completely disappeared. When the story was published (first in the Iowa Review), Cozine was an MFA student at Columbia. A Google search revealed no other published stories by him or any clues to what happened to him. Perhaps he changed his name? Or became disenchanted with the publishing world? Or something sadder? If anyone knows what happened to Andrew Cozine, post a response, or send me an email at clinfor (at) vt (dot) edu