Stephen King wants to SAVE THE SHORT STORY

In his introduction to the recently published 2007 Best American Short Stories, Stephen King has a lot to say about the current state of affairs surrounding the short story. After a folksy anecdote about crawling on a bookstore floor to find Tin House, and the first instance I can remember of a BASS editor using the phrase “with my ass in the air and my nose to the carpet,” (way to choke, Chabon), the crux of King’s feeling boils down to: short stories still matter, but he doesn’t want them to suck. Stevie, we are with you, you strange, wonderful Red Sox fan. Here are some excerpts from his colorful introduction…

“The American short story is alive and well. Do you like the sound of that? Me too. I only wish it were actually true…let us consider what the bottom shelf does to creative writers–especially the young on…who still care, sometimes passionately, about the short story. What happens to a writer when he or she realizes that his or her audience is shrinking almost daily? Well, if the writer is worth his or her salt, he or she continues on nevertheless–because it’s what god or genetics (possibly they are the same) has decreed, or out of sheer stubbornness, or maybe because it’s such a kick to spin tales…It’s tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience of readers-for-pure-pleasure. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse on Saturday night, and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ-When circulation-falters, the air in the room gets stale…What I want to start with is something that comes at me full-bore, like a big hot meteor screaming down from the Kansas sky…I certainly don’t want some fraidy-cat’s writing school imitation of Faulkner, or some stream-of-consciousness bullshit about what Bob Dylan once called ‘the true meaning of a peach.’ So, American short story alive? Check. American short story well? Sorry, no, can’t say so. Current condition stable, but apt to deteriorate in the years ahead. Measures to be taken? I would suggest you start by reading these stories, part of a series that is still popular and discussed. They show how vital short stories can be when they are done with heart, mind and soul by people who care about them and think they still matter. They do still matter.”

11 thoughts on “Stephen King wants to SAVE THE SHORT STORY

  1. I think it’s absolutely fantastic that King “juried” the latest edition of BASS. Growing up, I read King fanatically. I started with his short stories, and that’s what hooked me to the form. He and Ray Bradbury…man, what a combination for a young, small-town girl growing up in the late 70s to absorb. I felt opened up to something new. The stories were dark but pertinent; lyrical and strange; frightening but moving, intellectually. I still love King, even though I’m a 41-year-old mother of two boys. I just read Lisey’s story. King is still a fabulous yarn-spinner, and his short stories firmly established my love for the short-story form, which, you might say, is one of the reasons I subscribe to One Story. So, there. How’s that for full circle?

  2. See the op-ed by King in today’s Times, which says pretty much the same thing. I found it a bit rambling and incoherent frankly. Short stories are just hard, I think, hard to write, hard to read, and they’ll always cater to a niche audience. We just need to work on growing that niche. Go out and buy a collection today!

  3. While I agree that King rambles, I don’t know that short stories will always cater to a niche audience. They haven’t in the past. A lot of my friends are teachers, and have reported back to me how their students love classics like Poe and Shirley Jackson (highly anthologized stories that are so familiar we forget sometimes they are actually good), but also Carver (“Cathedral,” “Photograph”) and more modern writers (Richard Bausch, Sherman Alexie) whose work these teachers are bothering to expose their students to. I don’t know if the short story isn’t popular because the literati have used it in some cases as their own nuclear test site for obscure meanderings and have alienated readers (like King would argue), or because there’s no short story super star who will do for literary short stories what Andre Agassi did for tennis circa late 80s and make a staid form palatable to the masses again (to give us another “Telltale Heart” or “Metamorphosis”), or for some other reason. But, I don’t think throughout history they have been a niche thing. And, I don’t think they have to be now.

  4. i dont get it – since when has stephan king become a respected author ?? his writing has always been the butt of jokes (hmmm lets see, a possessed house, a possessed dog, a possessed car, a possessed person, another possessed car.. etc etc etc ) and he’s editing the BEST american short stories ???? JEESSSus CHRIST One Story! as part of the vanguard of todays best writing you should be pointing out that the emperer has no clothes. between stephen king and all his kids (aint nepotism grand) he has done enough damage to american literature. just be nice stephen and quietly donate to a library or something if you wanna help.

  5. I agree. Someone write something incredible like Metamorphosis and people will come running back to the short story. I think (maybe I am projecting) that too many readers are turned off by the overemphasis of a kind of vapid, self-conscious emotionality and linguistic high-jinks over plot — which to me means shit happening (a man turning into an insect), people learning about themselves and others (a man realizing how conditional his family’s love is). I’ve read contest winning stories recently where I went, huh! what the ##$%$@$^&&$*** was that about? I don’t feel we should write down to our audience. Kafka didn’t write down. But we should write about what is relevant to people’s lives, what is compelling, and what is entertaining and edifying. Did anyone say this was easy?

  6. kafka also only published a few short stories during his lifetime. even the great metamorphosis (more like a short novel) wasn’t published till after death. this industry is so rampant with corruptions and kids who think an mfa makes a writer that its a miracle any cream rises to the top.

  7. Hey, don’t hate on Stephen King! I LOVED the book about the possessed car. In high school, I read his novella, “The Body,” and there were scenes in that story I still vividly remember today. And if an author can grab your attention by the first page and keep you up nights, he’s doing his job, and he’s doing it well. So what if he’s not high-brow? And I bet that there will be at least three people who buy the book, thinking it’s the new Stephen King novel, entitled “Best American Short Stories.”

  8. Have you ever read his story, “The Man in the Black Suit”? It’s INCREDIBLE. Stephen King is an amazing writer, and the perfect host for Best American Short Stories.

  9. hahaha – yeah, i often confuse his writing with martin amis – (i understand hannah, you published his son- now you’ve got to stick up for him) hey, maybe you’ll get a nice donation, now that you have achieved non profit status !

  10. Cynicism and literary snobbery are antithetical to creativity. I like that writers–and their styles–come in all forms and genres. Bring on King and Alice Hoffman along with the likes of Amis and George Saunders and delight in the vast spectrum of entertaining, moving, literary writing. Enough variation, I might add, to satisfy the equally vast spectrum of reader tastes. BTW, I think it’s sad that you would post such a rude accusation. For shame, not so gentle reader.

  11. I agree with Merek. Please allow me to add that such variations help us
    appreciate and evaluate the works of different authors – a favor to readers like us.

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