Short Stories Finally Getting the Respect They Deserve -Sam O’Dell

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The most recent Nobel Prize for Literature was just awarded to Alice Munro, a Canadian author of several collections of short stories – 15 total since her first was published in 1968. Interestingly, unlike most other fiction writers who have won a Nobel Prize for Literature, Munro has never released a novel. In an interview with the New York Times, Munro discusses the importance of receiving the Nobel despite this fact. Unknown

“I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something you played around with until you got a novel,” she told the Times.

Munro is the first author to win the prize for a lifetime of work that revolves entirely around short stories. Other recipients often had short stories in their portfolios, but their bodies of work revolved instead around their novels or, for some, their poems. For whatever reason, short stories have long been regarded as the novel’s less-sophisticated younger cousin. Getting a collection of short stories published does not often carry the same kind of prestige as doing the same with a full-length novel.

Of course, here at Shenandoah, we pride ourselves on the publication of several high-quality short stories every year. They are an integral part of the magazine’s content, and we typically publish upwards of four in every issue, as well as quite a few pieces of flash fiction. There is obviously something about a great short piece that makes it just as relevant in the literary world as any novel.

Short stories are, as the name implies, shorter than novel-length works. This brevity can result in a hyper-concentration of the most desirable attributes of any story, whether it be novel-length or shorter. When an author sets out with the intention to write a short story, they are tasked with making the reader care about his or her characters and the outcome of the story in much less than a quarter of the length novelists have to work with. Because of this, excellent dialogue, description, characterization, and plot all unfold rapidly before the reader’s eyes. Too often longer works can get bogged down with unnecessary padding that adds little to the plot or character development. Short stories with the same problem are easily identified as weak and quickly passed over for something better.

imagesI agree with Munro: people should stand up and take notice of short stories and their authors. It’s time we stopped overlooking this integral piece of literature and begin to accord it the respect it deserves as a form. After all, if poems can be highly literary pieces of work in fewer than ten lines, then why write off the short story? –Sam O’Dell

About Ann Persons

Annie Persons is currently the managing editor for Shenandoah. She is a junior English major and Creative Writing minor at Washington and Lee University. Her favorite pastimes are reading and writing, and she hopes to continue engaging with literature for the rest of her life.

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3 Responses to Short Stories Finally Getting the Respect They Deserve -Sam O’Dell

  1. Annie Persons says:

    I’m also glad that Munro won! She is a hugely prolific writer. I agree that short stories can be just as meaningful as novels, and often times they stick with me better than novels do…Bartleby the Scrivener comes to mind.

  2. R.T. Smith says:

    The short story is my favorite literary form, which is fortunate, as I get to read (or skim, as the occasion dictates) 3000-4000 story submissions to SHENANDOAH in a year. I also have stories from fifteen student fiction writers coming in on a regular basis, and I’ve judged some fiction contests lately which were primarily short stories. I have my favorites, but I don’t know of any writers I love who write only short stories, which is a somewhat bashful admission that I don’t love Munro’s stories, though I appreciate their skill, wit and gravity. The two writers working right now whose short stories alone (novels and non-fiction aside) make them equally viable candidates for the Nobel are William Trevor and Edna O’Brien, both Irish. I’m going to give Munro another try, but I’m always careful to keep a copy of the most recent COLLECTED of Trevor in my home and in my office. You never know when you’ll need a sip of the Irish. Then another.

  3. Taylor McPherson says:

    I’m almost surprised that she’s the first sole short-story writer to win the Nobel Prize. You would think that since the short story is often the first form that creative writers and introduced to in their beginning fiction writing workshops, that more authors would stick with the form throughout their professional life. So yay Alice Munro! I actually read my first short story by her a few weeks ago; maybe I should read more now!

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