It was said by more than one author that the ‘golden age’ of the short story was the 1920s, and that although varied publications remain (The New Yorker, Myslexia, The Woman’s Weekly), there is little opportunity in the modern age for the short story writer. Was this, as Kurt Vonnegut argued the result of television? Vonnegut claimed:
When I started out it was possible to make a living as a freelance writer of fiction…because it was still the golden age of magazines, and it looked as though it would go on forever…Then television, with no malice whatsoever-just a better buy for advertisers- knocked the magazines out of business.1
If Vonnegut is correct then what does the 24/7 media, Barack Obama spoke of, during his address at Hampton University in 2010, mean for the short story? How can short stories compete with the endless flow of information Obama described as a ‘distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment…putting pressure on you? There are so many other ways to while the hours, so much information to keep track of. Ofcom research concluded, in 2010, that Brits spend 45% of their waking hours using media and communications. It would be naïve to ignore the competition the short story is up against. However, it could be argued that the short story is the perfect form for the digital age, when those living in developed nations have become so accustomed to intense concentration for shorter periods of time. And there is something special, unique about the short story experience. A particular satisfaction from a well-crafted tale, which builds to a conclusion and can be read in one go, is not easily imitated. Certainly, the form has potency that keeps pulling me back, both as a reader and a writer. I feel as Edgar Allan Poe argued that ‘the intensity of short, concentrated forms read in one sitting increases there emotional impact.’2 In Silence by Alice Munro, the author manages to portray over twenty years of loss in less than eight thousand words. In this story the central character’s daughter goes to a spiritual retreat and never returns. Munro evokes the weight of loss so carefully that the feeling of the story resonates long after the last page has been turned. This is an example of the way the emotion within the best short fiction is almost tangible. It is as if the condensed nature of the story releases an essence that is absorbed by the reader. The short story is as Ailsa Cox describes ‘…a protean form, encompassing infinite variations and, just like the novel, shading into other genres.3’ So how should we to define short fiction? Is it Joyce Carol Oates’s maximum ’10,000 words: and…it achieves closure’? Considering this question Cox goes on to argue that we shouldn’t ‘impose rigid distinctions’. Nonetheless, various definitions do exist. Collins dictionary, for example, defines the short story as ‘a prose narrative of shorter length than the novel, esp. one that concentrates on a single theme’. However, the Merriam-Webster (online) Dictionary aims for greater precision citing, ‘an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot’. Yet, unlike Oates neither specifies a maximum length. Cox continues that many highlight that short stories are ‘restricted to a limited time frame’, another distinction neither dictionary includes. If we look back at the history of the form perhaps we gain more clarity. The emergence of the written short story, as distinct from its oral forerunner, was dependent upon increased literacy amongst wider sections of society and the development of magazine publishing. By the time these two factors coincided the public were not only ready for the short story, they were eager. As William Boyd writing in Prospect states:
…the short story effectively sprang into being in its full maturity...There were no faltering first...
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