1-7 of 7 Results

  • Keywords: short stories x
Clear all

Article

Paley, Grace  

Ellen McGrath Smith

This article explores the life and work of writer Grace Paley, whose short stories made their stylistic and thematic marks on the American short fiction genre. Drawing on her multiple identities as an American woman of the World War II generation, a political activist, a lifelong New Yorker, and a Jew born to immigrant parents who had fled oppression in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, Paley’s writing highlights women’s lives and their struggles against established social roles. The article then looks at Paley’s first book, The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Women and Men at Love (1959), which established her reputation as a fiction writer. It also considers her subsequent short story collections: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974) and Later the Same Day (1985). In addition to short fiction and essays, Paley has published poetry collections, including Leaning Forward (1985), Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000), and Fidelity (2007).

Article

Wharton, Edith  

Carol J. Singley

Edith Wharton, a literary realist and naturalist, was a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction whose work helped to define a major intellectual and aesthetic movement at the turn of the 20th century. As a chronicler of society’s manners and mores as well as morals, Wharton was adept at portraying male and female characters in stifling social situations, variously of their own and others' making. She was especially interested in ways that society's standards shape women's choices, and she boldly articulated characters' longings for roles that give fuller rein to the range of women's emotional and sexual needs. An avid reader of Darwinian science, philosophy, and religion, she often depicted characters trapped by environment or biology but aspiring—vaguely or inarticulately—toward elusive ideals. During her literary career, which spanned over fifty years, Wharton published twenty-five novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Age of Innocence (1920), eighty-eight short stories, three volumes of poetry, and numerous volumes on travel, art and architecture, interior design, and the theory of fiction, earning popular and critical acclaim. Many of her works, which are set in New England and Europe as well as New York City, have been successfully adapted for stage and film. From the 1940s until the 1970s, her reputation suffered from a persistent comparison of her work with that of Henry James and from the misperception that she was a writer only of high society—and therefore “narrow” interests. Subsequently, however, she has been uniformly hailed as one of the finest American writers.

Article

Lardner, Ring  

Jen Hirt

Ring Lardner was a sharp-witted American humorist who had an amazing ear for malapropisms, idioms, and the lively vernacular of early 20th-century Chicago and later the East Coast. Originally a sports writer for baseball, Lardner branched out to short stories in 1914, when he wrote serial fiction for the Saturday Evening Post. This job lead to him honing the authorial control that lead to him creating three original and beloved fictional characters. They were the baseball player Jack Keefe (who appeared in the Saturday Evening Post stories); later, an unnamed but sarcastic husband; and years later, Fred Gross, an inept detective. His unique, first-person stories held an air of authenticity and daring. Readers loved his work for the style and subjects that transcended the stodgy halls of refined literature, and yet intellectuals mined them for the brilliant irony and cultural criticism. Lardner developed a reputation as a complex writer whose column, nonetheless, was read weekly by the mainstream, not just the experts. Additionally, critics saw immediate value in how Lardner let himself be fascinated by the social microcosm of baseball (with minor leaguers maneuvering to rise in the ranks); he saw in it a parallel to class struggles in America. When he later became an actual Long Island neighbor of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, he sought to capture in literature the decadence of the American lifestyle. His later work was fiercely critical of shallow attitudes, social climbing, and the tendency for business interests to undermine culture. By 1929, Lardner's rough lifestyle and utter disenchantment with America—as well as a tuberculosis diagnosis—took a toll on his creative output. He had been a binge drinker since his days as Fitzgerald's socialite neighbor. His drinking was fueled by his deep vein of disgust for his own society. His wildly comedic and witty writing belied his own weaknesses, including succumbing to the stress of being financially responsible for his family. Monetary success eventually came in 1930, when he coauthored a musical, “June Moon.” It was fleeting, however; the next years saw him produce a weekly radio column and rehash the Jack Keefe adventures in a 1933 redux of fictional baseball letters, titled Lose with a Smile. He died that year, of a heart attack, on September 25. He was forty-eight years old.

Article

Anderson, Sherwood  

Nancy Bunge

After watching his family struggle financially as a boy, the adult Sherwood Anderson threw himself into making money and, unlike his father, he supported his family well. But he also wrote fiction in order to discover and face the truth. On November 28, 1912, the tension between Anderson’s life and the dispositions he uncovered through his writing became so strong that he walked out of his office and vanished for four days. He had no clear memory of where he had been, but he realized this event signaled that he needed a life that coordinated more successfully with his values. He sold his business and moved to Chicago, where he began writing the short story collection generally considered his masterpiece: Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson subsequently moved through marriages to Tennessee Mitchell and Elizabeth Prall while writing a series of novels about men struggling to establish good relationships with women: Poor White (1920), Many Marriages (1923), and Dark Laughter (1925). In 1925, Anderson retreated with Prall to the Virginia countryside, where he bought two newspapers and wrote whatever the newspapers needed, sometimes in the folksy voice of a character named Buck Fever. After that marriage ended, Anderson met and married Eleanor Copenhaver, a social activist who helped educate Anderson about the lives of working people. These experiences informed his next novel, Beyond Desire, a pessimistic work about relationships that holds out one element of hope: a socially aware woman named Louise whom the narrator suggests would make a great wife if she met a courageous man. And, indeed, Anderson’s marriage to Eleanor lasted the rest of his life. Perhaps because he had resolved his marital issues, in his last novel Anderson moved outside his own experiences; Kit Brandon focuses on a female protagonist who muses about the difficulties of marriage in modern life. Anderson realized that one’s culture inevitably shapes one, and so throughout his career his novels contain asides that worry about industrialism’s negative impact on his contemporaries’ ability to connect with one another. Toward the end of his career, Anderson produced nonfiction books that address his concerns directly. In A Story Teller’s Story (1924) and The Modern Writer (1925), he suggests that authors must resist the forces corrupting society. In Perhaps Women (1931), he argues that in cooperating with the machine, men have become impotent, so all hope of redeeming society rests with women. In No Swank (1934), when he writes of authors he admires, he praises their generosity, not their craft. And, indeed, literary achievement mattered far less to Anderson than did writing the truth in a way that could help his contemporaries imagine ways to redeem their lives.

Article

Cuadros, Gil  

Rafael Pérez-Torres

Writer Gil Cuadros (1962–1996) composed an influential collection of short stories and poems, City of God (1994), that recounts the experiences of gay Chicano life in the age of AIDS. Learning he was HIV-positive after the death of his lover due to AIDS, he wrote to grapple with the enormity of his loss. Cuadros developed an aesthetic vocabulary for relating the richly complex experience of a seropositive queer Latinidad. Seeking to represent the unrepresentable, his work ranges from unflinchingly stark and minimalist to amorphously dark and surreal, exposing and exploring the cross-currents of race, violence, love, and sex ever haunted by an awareness of mortality. Concerned with making visible a queer literary chicanidad, Cuadros crafted poems and stories that are grounded in physicality and developed a vocabulary of sensation and sensuality. The stories reveal the body as a source of knowledge. While not the subject of extensive critical work, Cuadros’s writing is drawing more extensive attention. Earlier criticism focuses on the tension that Cuadros’s writing generates as it explores the racial and social ambivalence of queer Latinx desire. These analyses privilege the formation of queer mestizo subjectivity and read the body as a contested text. Following developments in queer theory, more recent critics foreground aesthetic and thematic ambiguity as part of a complicated dynamic between legibility and disciplinary social repression. Cuadros’s darkly ambivalent aesthetics perform what it means to be gay, Chicano, and living with AIDS, foregrounding new relations as aesthetics, politics, form, and content bleed into each other.

Article

Garland, Hamlin  

Jen Hirt

A prolific author whose early writings established him as a promising realist in American literature, Hannibal Hamlin Garland, who went by his middle name, was born on a farm in West Salem, Wisconsin, on September 4, 1860. His family moved around the Middle Border, now known as the Midwest, before settling in Mitchell County, Iowa, in 1876. By 1882, Garland was living in Illinois, but after just two years, he relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, where in 1885, he was hired at the Boston School of Oratory. This move would define the rest of his lifelong struggle, both to identify as a Midwestern writer and to hold that identity at a distance. While he had some publishing exposure prior to 1889, that year was when he began publishing in earnest. He would go on to publish over fifty books, the last of which appeared in 1939. Most notable was his Pulitzer Prize in biography for A Daughter of the Middle Border, a 1921 book that was second in a series of family histories. The award-winning book took a hard and realistic look at Garland’s family life. Some of his later work went on to serve as a call for reform toward the treatment of Native Americans and the riparian land of the Midwest and West. However, he framed the call to action within formulaic romances and thus suffered criticism for abandoning his talents in literary realism. More recently, scholars have argued that Garland’s shifting between genres should be not be criticized; they argue he was only doing what any talented writer seeking an income in the early 20th-century publishing market would do. A 2008 memoir by his daughter, Isabel Garland Lord, also stands in support of Garland’s artistic decisions, which earned him financial stability and a steady circuit of lectures and publishing. He never returned to the Midwest, and lived out his final years in Los Angeles, California, where he was drawn to Hollywood. There, he maintained strong relationships with influential writers at home and abroad, earning him the informal title of The Dean of American Letters. His final writing projects departed even further from literary realism; he delved into the paranormal, such as the purported power of buried objects. This attempt at making a name for himself in the realm of the paranormal did not pay off (even 21st-century scholars do not make much of these later books), and for many years he remained in the shadow of more eminent American writers. He can be credited, however, as a prolific writer and lecturer who succeeded in three areas—validating American realism at a time when the fad was to romanticize the rural life, showcasing the Midwest as a place of profound struggle and beauty, and documenting the American way of life as seen by a conscientious critic. He died in Hollywood of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 4, 1940, at the age of 79. He was buried with his parents in Neshonoc Cemetery in his hometown of West Salem, Wisconsin.

Article

The Short Story in America  

Laurie Champion

The short story is the only genre that can be considered uniquely American. The genre began as sketches, or tales, as in the classic tale “Rip Van Winkle.” The genre remained undefined until Edgar Allan Poe’s well-known 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales. Since Poe’s review, in which he distinguished short fiction from other genres, the American short story has evolved both in form and in content. Like other genres, the short story has evolved through various movements and traditions such as realism, modernism, and postmodernism; however, it has remained unique because of publishing opportunities that differ from longer works such as the novel. The short story genre shares elements of fiction with the novel, traditionally consisting of characteristics such as plot, character, setting, point of view, theme, and writing style. Although the short story shares elements of literature and writing devices with other literary genres, avenues for publication differ greatly. Unlike a novel, a short story is not published as a single entity. It is usually presented with works by other authors in a journal or magazine or in a collection of previously published stories by one author. The rise in popular magazines during the 1920s gave rise to the short story, as the magazines provided a publication outlet. During the second half of the 20th century the short story became less commercial and more literary, paving the way for artistic stories such as one appropriately called “The New Yorker Story.” However, as it became less commercial, the short story fell from popularity and became somewhat obscure in the manner in which poetry remains. Because short stories do not sell, publishers are hesitant to produce them. But during the 1970s, American universities began teaching creative writing classes, and the short story provided a suitable genre for teaching the art of fiction writing. Hence, the American short story experienced a renaissance, and a wave of literary journals emerged. About this time, minimalism was one of the styles most often used in the short story. Raymond Carver built on what Ernest Hemingway had started in America, and the short story took on a new form. During the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century, women and ethnic writers were given more opportunities to publish short fiction, and the short story reflected progress in civil rights issues. Currently, the rise in technological advances has brought even more opportunities for publication, and more and more American authors are publishing short stories online, now a respected publication venue.