Many writers compelled to craft short fiction do so against the big question about whether the short story is dying. As a writer and a reader, I don’t feel this is true at all. But then, I’m a fan of the form, even on days when I want to light my work on fire. Short stories are the perfect length for the hectic life. They’re much easier to inhabit, to fully drop into and then emerge out of, than novels. You can get the satisfaction of a full narrative arc in the time it takes to commute to work, cook something at the stove, or wait at a doctor’s office. I’ve even read flash fiction while brushing my teeth (a few times I’ve stood at the sink with suds in my mouth, the toothbrush forgotten).
I’m not saying reading short fiction should only be shoe-horned between other activities; I’m only pointing out it can be done that way, very satisfyingly. Also, I’m guessing the reading life looks like this for many of us — more catch-as-catch-can and less feet-up-on-the-couch than we’d like it to be.
I’d argue the short story isn’t as “pallid” or “ill from neglect” as Mary Gaitskill once suggested. Nor are short stories just “written for editors and teachers rather than for readers,” as Stephen King once lamented was the by-product of a shrinking readership. There are many fine journals out there doing the good, hard work of keeping the short form alive, and a heap of talented emerging writers showing up in those pages. And there are readers. Plenty of them, and not all of them writers.
Readers are smart, after all, and know when they’re in good hands. This is one of the first tenets you learn in any writing program.
Speaking of being in good hands, each year the Chicago Tribune invites writers to submit short fiction for its Nelson Algren Award. Named after the writer Nelson Algren, the contest is free. You can submit two stories. If you win, there’s a generous prize, your piece is published in the paper, and you get to be in the company of fellow Nelson Algren winners like Louise Erdrich, Julia Glass, Melissa Bank and E.J Levy, to name just a few.
Beginning in February of this year, the Tribune added a book geek’s membership society called Printers Row. Taking a page out of One Story‘s mission to send singleton stories to subscribers every three weeks, Printers Row sends out a weekly short story. It’s also free to submit work for this project, and you can track your submission on Submishmash.
Heather E. Goodman‘s kick-ass story His Dog won the 2008 Nelson Algren Award and is now out as a Printers Row piece. Goodman’s characters are a hardscrabble lot, eking out a life on the land and with each other. The story is tender, gritty, unrelenting and carries you toward an inevitability that is the perfect final act, though you don’t see it coming. But don’t believe me. Read it for yourself online or pony up for a Printers Row subscription. You’ll get to hold this gem in your hands and be reminded each week that the short story is alive and well.