Short Stories: Dead, Alive, or Just Poorly Marketed?

| 10/18/2007 12:00:00 AM

In the September 30th issue of the New York Times Book Review, Stephen King warned that the short story is in a state of decline. According to King, the form suffers because fiction staples such as Tin House and the Kenyon Review get shoved on the bottom shelf on magazine racks, while “moneymakers and rent-payers” get prominent placement. How and why fiction gets second billing is beside his point; King focuses on what happens to writers when they know they’ve got a diminishing audience. According to King, their stories become "self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers."

J.M. Tyree argues at the Smart Set that short story isn’t dying, just that people aren’t looking in the right spot: Writing has shifted to the digital medium. It's only the technophobes who prize the bound specimen over the words. “The online world, especially for the older crowd, is still conventionally depicted as a kind of South Bank of London filled with the literary equivalent of bear-baiting," he observes. While Tyree acknowledges that “the short fiction available online cannot compete in quality with the better print quarterlies,” his survey of literary activity in various mediums makes surveying just one form—say, the print short story—seem shortsighted.

On his blog, Brooklyn, New York-based writer Ed Champion responds to King’s “distress call,” and offers an unusual solution. He wonders if audio books were performed more like radio dramas, instead of largely lifeless recitations, that if the $871 million industry might help American literature regain a chunk of the readers it has lost. “If the short story were truly important in the United States, then someone would step in and find a way in which to reach the great American public,” he writes.—Eric Kelsey


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