Literary short stories are making a comeback. In 2009, Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her collection of short stories Olive Kitteridge. Jhumpa Lahiri preceded Strout’s win in 2000 for her book, Interpreter of Maladies. Some would argue that even this year’s winner, A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan was a collection of short stories. Even though it was classified as a novel, each chapter could stand alone as a short story. In fact many of Egan’s chapters had been published as short stories before they were published in the award winning novel.
Old Form, New Attention
In reality, short stories have been around for ages. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens, to name only a few esteemed authors, wrote and published short stories. Recently though, contemporary authors have found more commercial success with short story collections. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that readers lead busy lives and short stories offer the opportunity to read a complete work of art from beginning to end in one sitting. A reader that happens upon a well-written short story can enjoy getting to know a complex character, get lost in the scene the author has created and experience the tension and resolution of a situation; all of this in about thirty minutes or less.
From Short Story to the Big Screen
It’s important to remember that when considering good literature, short does not mean insignificant. Powerful stories can be told in relatively few pages. Full length feature films have been made from short stories. “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald were short stories before they were big hit movies. More recently Will Ferrell starred in the movie Everything Must Go that was taken from the short story “Why Don’t You Dance” by Raymond Carver.
So if you aspire to fill your life with good literature, don’t despair if you don’t have the attention span or time for War and Peace. A great short story can leave you feeling like you’ve read both a beautiful poem and an enlightening story.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize winning authors mentioned above, here are six contemporary writers that have done their part in giving the short story genre a boost: Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, Lorrie Moore, Rick Bass, Sherman Alexie and Stuart Dybek. Their styles vary, but all of them are masters of the form.