Newswise — WACO, Texas (Oct. 27, 2016) – This Halloween, a Baylor University creative writing professor is urging readers to resurrect their interest in short stories.
Once published by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and James Baldwin, short stories have faded from popularity over the last century as new technologies have changed the way people engage with entertainment. Even with competition from television and movies, however, short stories still have a lot to offer readers looking to be entertained, said Arna Hemenway, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts Sciences.
Hemenway specializes in creative writing. He was the winner of the 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction for his story collection Elegy on Kinderklavier, and his fiction has been honored as a Distinguished/Notable Story of the Year in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Nonrequired Reading anthologies.
In this QA, Hemenway explains the role of short stories in today’s society.
Q: What makes a good short story?
A: There are as many different answers to this question as there are good stories in the world. I think, though, if you have to draw one through-line, a good story creates a new emotional or intellectual territory for the reader, an experience not soon forgotten.
Q: How are short stories different from novels?
A: Short stories are different from novels in that they’re much more focused; they’re organized by the attempt to catch a glimpse or a shard of truth as it manifests out in the world. A novel really is about being a world itself.
Q: What’s the appeal of short stories compared to other types of writing?
A: There’s nothing on earth remotely like a short story. Almost all other narrative, particularly in writing, must either be in conversation with a very traditional narrative structure (exposition – rising action – climax – falling action) or must be trying to answer a question. A short story can have any structure that fits its author’s imagination. Short stories also are all about posing a question, usually one that has no easy answer.
Q: How does the short story today differ from the short story of the past?
A: I’d say there’s more freedom, more invention, a wider sense of imagination, subject and form. That in itself is basically an answer to the changing modern world around the writer. In the past, I think authors were more answerable to convention in fiction. Also, one great difference is that the world of the short story now is much more inclusive; it’s being used to render the experiences of minorities, oppressed groups or simply previously little known experiences. Short stories are kind of a great democratizer.
Q: Why don’t many people read short stories today?
A: Well, one answer is that many people simply don’t read today, least of all literary fiction. Also, though, I think it’s mostly a problem of exposure. American high-schoolers were probably forced to read old and not-very-interesting short stories for their English classes. This doesn’t do much to show them how relevant and exciting and enjoyable a modern, inventive short story can be. I think it’s hard for people to find them, and harder for people to see their relevance. That’s largely the plight of literary fiction these days, though.
Q: Halloween is a few weeks away. What are some scary short stories you would recommend and why?
“The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill
Sometimes the scariest thing is realizing the truth about the terrifying acts you are capable of.
“Mastiff” by Joyce Carole Oates
A very real dog attack is scary enough, but what it reveals about one’s heart is perhaps even worse.
“The Paperhanger” by William Gay
A window into the terrifyingly banal and bizarre life of one of the creepier murderers in the history of short fiction.
“The Infamous Bengal Ming” by Rajesh Parameswaran
Sometimes the scariest stories are those where it takes a while to realize the horror of a character you like, in this case told from the perspective of a man-eating tiger.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe
This is a straight-up old-school horror story. I read this in sixth grade and can still feel today the panic and fear of the main character’s torture at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. Skip Poe’s more famous scary stories; this one is the real deal.
by Kalli Damschen, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805
ABOUT ARNA HEMENWAY
Arna Bontemps Hemenway is an assistant professor of English in Baylor University’s College of Arts Sciences. He received his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Hemenway is the author of the critically acclaimed Elegy on Kinderklavier, which won the 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction. Hemenway’s other fiction has been published by Five Chapters, Alaska Quarterly Review, Ecotone, The Missouri Review, The Seattle Review, Meridian Literary Review and Bat City Review, among others. He has served as the Peter Taylor Scholar of Fiction Writing at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a Truman Capote Fellow of Fiction Writing and the John C. Schupes Fellow of Fiction Writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is currently at work on a novel about an Israeli mourners’ colony.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS SCIENCES
The College of Arts Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.