Recently, I’ve managed to publish a few flash fictions. There’s “Dear Id” at Atticus Review, “The Temple at Avenue D” at Big Lucks’ online arm Quick Lucks, “Notes From a Fruit Dentist,” at Penguin Review, “The Sale” at RipRap, and finally “The Walk” at Rougarou. In addition, I have a full length story, “Moonbow,” in the inaugural issue of The Lindenwood Review.
The first two posts charting my odyssey through thirty volumes of the Best American series can be found here and here. While reading another one of the books, I came across a recent survey by VIDA, an organization that deals with women in the arts. VIDA completed a statistical analysis of the gender discrepancies in each of the Best American Short Stories, Poetry, and Essays anthologies. They found over the last thirty years women accounted for 29% of the essays, and 39% of the poems. However, in terms of the short stories they discovered practical equality:
…of the stories published in the anthologies from 1978 through 2010, 47% were written by women. Of the thirty-three years of the Best American Short Stories we counted, there were sixteen years in which the number of works by women published in the anthologies were equal to or greater than the number of works by men.
Some fascinating data there. I leave it to others to draw their own conclusions. So onward with my latest year:
Standout stories: Geoffrey Becker’s “Black Elvis,” Ha Jin’s “The Bridegroom,” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent.”
Overall, I found this edition to be lackluster, many well-written but so-so stories. Often I found myself wanting more profundity in the work, the type of insight gleaned at by the guest editor, E.L. Doctorow, in his fascinating introduction:
It was the Freudian disciple Wilhelm Reich who realized that extensive dream analysis was not necessary to uncover a patient’s psyche: anywhere you looked — in actions taken, habits of thought, tone of voice, body language — you would find the typified self. That about describes the working principle of the short story as practiced by James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.
Throughout his short essay, Doctorow offers his thoughts on the short story and its development and progression over the last few years. Of particular interest, he examines episodic and epiphanic narrative modes and discusses the strengths and pitfalls of Frank O’Conner’s The Lonely Voice (1963), a sweeping and yet detailed study of the short story genre. In the past, I’ve read sections of O’Conner’s book. I think it may be time to pay it another visit.
In my first post on the Best American Short Story series, I outlined my plan to read the last thirty editions. I’m reading the books for craft, the nuts-and-bolts of (short) storytelling, and to read some damn-good fiction. As I mentioned in my previous post, many of the magazines that submitted to the series are now defunct (Antaeus, Four Quarters, Kansas Quarterly, Ontario Review, TriQuarterly) for various reasons. Others, mostly university-based journals, have simply changed their names over the years. It’s interesting for me also to read writers I’d previously never discovered: Kent Nelson, Tess Gallagher, Jessica Neely. I will be checking out their collections in the years to come.
Standout stories: Charles Baxter’s “Gryphon,” Ann Beattie’s “Janus,” Ethan Canin’s “Star Food,” and Mona Simpson’s “Lawns.”
This really was a stellar year for short fiction, or perhaps the selections were more to my tastes. It’s no surprise, I suppose, the guest editor of that year was Raymond Carver — one of my major influences.
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
In my previous post I covered online journals, in this one I want to turn to print-based literary journals.
The following discussion will disregard magazines like The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, Harper’s, and The Atlantic, as these are transnational and commercial magazines with high circulations. Instead, I will examine journals that often have a circulation of a couple of thousand and are non or low profit. My personal criteria, which of course is subjective, included prestige, time-in-operation, inclusion in the Best American series, Pushcarts, and the calibre and accomplishments of the writers included within their pages.
The Top Ten
1. The Paris Review
4. Virginia Quarterly Review
5. Georgia Review
6. Sewanee Review
7. One Story
8. Prairie Schooner
Other fine journals that just missed out on the top ten include Glimmer Train, Tin House, Five Points, American Short Fiction, The Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, A Public Space, North American Review, and The Kenyon Review.
These five journals I rate highly in terms of the writing and the breath of content and style on display.
1. Mid-American Review
2. Cimarron Review
3. Florida Review
4. Beloit Fiction Journal
5. Ninth Letter
Lastly, to even out the playing field, I have a few journals that accept students’ work only.
1. Susquehanna Review (UG)
2. Touchstone (UG/G)
3. Red Clay Review (G)
4. Zaum (UG/G)
5. Prairie Margins (UG)
6. Outrageous Fortune (UG)
7. Aubade (students and the community)
Note: ex-student journals now open to everyone include: Penguin Review, Emerson Review, and Eclipse. Also, the Southampton Review seems to accept “mostly” student work.