There are a few immovable truths in the literary community. No two people will read the same story without diverging at least a little in interpretation. Battles between format purists will rage on. Depending on who you’re talking to, color-coding your books will make you either a style icon or a monster, there’s no in-between. And May is Short Story Month.
Here’s the thing: up until, oh, a few days ago, I had no idea why May is Short Story Month. My initial Google search showed nothing but very enthusiastic blogs and websites sharing their plans for the month: we’ll be reading this, reviewing that, and so on and so forth. But I only had to dig a little deeper to find the father of this idea. (Too grandiose? I really like short stories.)
What is Short Story Month?
This is pretty self-explanatory. Short Story Month is a month dedicated to the short story form. It is celebrated by readers and authors alike: the former set out to read as many short stories as possible, while the latter typically set a goal for how many short stories they’ll write. The overachievers often write a short story per day.
Why is May Short Story Month?
On April 7, 2007, Dan Wickett, founder and editor of the Emerging Writers Network (EWN), published a post titled “Short Story Month?”. Drawing inspiration from April being National Poetry Month, Wickett decided to devote the following month to one of his favorite narrative forms by reading and reviewing a short story a day.
Initially, this was meant to be only on EWN, but the book community surprised him. Within days, other blogs and websites had picked up the baton.
The month was a success. Wickett realized that readers were commenting at a much bigger rate, making it clear that this was something plenty of people enjoyed. The following year, he redoubled his efforts: he read and reviewed two short stories a month, “one about a story read in a collection and another about a story read in a journal.”
Wickett and the EWN published 178 posts in 2008.
To Wickett and the other writers of Emerging Writers Network’s delight, other blogs and journals continued to join. Among these, Hobart, StoryGLOSSIA, American Short Fiction were among the most prominent.
The following year, 2009, was even more ambitious. Emerging Writers Network published three posts a day, so that each day featured a review from a short story collection, a print journal, and an online journal. The idea continued to draw other journals’ and blogs’ attention, including Fiction Writers Review, Poets & Writers, The Story Prize Blog, and Readerville.
Flash forward to now
May has become synonymous with Short Story Month within literary circles. Emerging Writers Network may have been its largest hub, but plenty of others play huge roles in it. This has allowed for a revival of the form: as Politics and Prose puts it, “Short stories should not be considered a warm-up to novel writing. This is unfortunately not an unnecessary warning: “(…) Many readers are hesitant – and even downright resistant- to settling down with a story collection.”
In which camp are you?
Are you a short story reader and/or writer? Or would you rather spend your time curling up with poetry and/or a novel? Regardless of where you fall in this spectrum, I leave you with a list of powerful short story collections. No matter where your interests lie, there will be something here for you.
Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo: These stories look into how South Indian immigrants deal with the costs of leaving and staying.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez. This book offers wonderful horror stories from a feminist angle.
Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker: A classic for a reason, these stories highlight Parker’s incisive eye and deadpan humor.
Mundo Cruel by Luis Negron: It explores the intimacy, the joy, and the grief of a small community in Puerto Rico brought together by their transgressive sexuality.
The Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thomson-Spires: Brimming with dark humor, these stories grapple with the concept of Black identity in this so-called post-racial era.