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.