The short story is dead! Long live the short story!
Few literary forms are subject to the kind of overreaching generalizations which short fiction endures every year around this time. Feed Magazine recently let fly with a piece accusing today's rising literary stars (in particular, Nathan Englander, short story writer par excellence and also the intended victim of the piece) of omitting too many "rude jokes" and too much "fucked-up vulnerability" from their prose. Not to be left out, the Kirkus Reviews has followed suit, shaking its faceless monolithic head in sadness over the failing health of the short story. Strangely enough, at approximately the same time that Feed and Kirkus were screaming "Clear!", reaching for the defibrillators and wishing they'd told the short story how much they really loved it when it was still alive, Harper's published a piece declaring that the short story was undergoing a "quiet Renaissance."
So who is right? Is the short story form dead in the grave, or has it risen, zombie-like, to claw at the legs of unsuspecting readers who dare to stroll among the headstones at midnight? The truth is that poorly-written short stories are written every day, in offices, writing workshops, dorm rooms and apartments across America, from sea to shining sea. (I put the finishing touches on an unremarkable short story of my own not two weeks ago.) However, like the "novel", the "moving picture", and "rock-and-roll" music, the short story continues to delight us even now that it is an established form. Prize Stories '99: The O. Henry Awards points up some of the many stories published in the past year that not only entertained us, but also broke new ground with ambition, technique, range of feeling, and gorgeous use of language (not to mention rude jokes and fucked-up vulnerability). So this year's O. Henry represents not a headstone, but a milestone: after 80 years of awarding honors to the finest short stories to reach print, O. Henry has offered Bold Type two of its most recent award-winning stories, information on the winners of years past, and an index of the magazines that publish short fiction today. (If you've got a story of your own in the works, check out Bold Type's contest which kicks off this month.)
Bold Type salutes O. Henry, and thanks magazines everywhere for another banner year in short fiction. Enjoy!
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