Who Reads Short-Shorts?


“Omissions are not accidents.”    –Marianne Moore

For a class on modern professional communications, I have been assigned the topic “the future of the book.” So, through research and my own personal opinions, I haveLightningBoltonblack5188 to determine where the book is going. And while I have noticed a lull in the print book vs. e-book debate (I, myself, am sick of it), I think it’s safe to say that we need not assume that “digital” and “future” are synonymous. At least not when it comes to reading. The future of the book comes down to two words: flash fiction.

Next semester at Washington and Lee, the standard Creative Writing: Fiction class will receive an exciting facelift. Instead of surveying some of the various genres of fiction, this course will study exclusively the short-short story through reading and writing the like. This course is anticipating a major shift in the literary trend toward shorter stories, backed by a not-so-recent but still relevant study that sites students’ diminishing attention spans. As a result of the digital age—where our access to information no longer requires combing library shelves across multiple floors but instead means a quick Google search—the average American’s attention span has decreased from 12 minutes to 5 minutes in the past 10 years. Wow. I’ll try to make this brief…

This is, of course, not a new genre—its roots go back to Aesop’s fables in 600 BCE. But it appears to be emerging in new ways. There are dozens of flash fiction anthologies on the market right now that feature stories by writers such as Lydia Davis, Tobias Wolff, and Robert Olen Butler, and I’m sure plenty of older authors of the genre come to mind—Hemingway, Kafka, Chekhov to name a few. Brevity, an online magazine focused solely on extremely short stories—750 words or fewer—has been around for over a decade. But should we expect even more anthologies, collections, or genre-specific journals in the near future?

Because of the digital shift in publishing, writers, more than ever, must anticipate and write what the public wants (see “Highbrow Horror and American Literature” among the posts below). And if the general public is experiencing a decrease in attention span, then it seems that the short-short is what we ne…


About Elise Petracca

Elise is a senior at Washington and Lee University. She is from Manhasset, NY and is studying English and Creative Writing.

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