Raymond Carver, in a Paris Review interview, spoke of seeing his first short story, “Pastoral”, published in a literary magazine as “A terrific day! Maybe one of the best days ever.”
When he reached another landmark moment in the 1960s and his story, Will you Please Be Quiet, Please? was printed in The Best American Short Stories Annual, he took the book to bed with him.
This year, I helped to judge a short story writing competition for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual - a collection of new writing in poetry and short fiction. The writers in the annual, plucked from a longlist of over a thousand entries, should feel the same sense of reward and validation as Carver. These are stories that the reader can take to bed and there, encounter the joyous flexibility of a form that can present an entire fictional world in just 2,000 words, or the entirety of a single, crystallised moment in the same word count.
It is particularly satisfying to see the fortunes of the short story revived in recent times. Following Alice Munro’s crowning last year as Nobel Prize winner for literature, some of our most revered writers – Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Graham Swift – have since proved with their latest collections that the short story is to be taken seriously and not merely a transitional form for fledging novelists-in-training.
I found a refreshing breadth of style and subject matter in competition entries. What makes them so diverse is not just the internationalism of their entrants but their imaginative scope. Themes range from family dysfunction, love and loss to the hard-edged social realities of dementia, domestic violence and public acts of terror, though there is playfulness too. Several dramatise the fragile, polar states of old age and of childhood in original ways.
Corinne Demas’s Thanksgiving, a subtle story of sibling bonds and betrayals, stood out for judges as this year’s winner. It is an unshowy piece of writing – nothing more, it would seem, than a brother and sister taking a car-ride together after a festive family dinner. Yet, emotional undercurrents swirl beneath the surface to give it heft and complexity, and there is a quiet, controlled confidence in its telling.
Each selected story was marked by its distinctive voice, from the lyrical to the spare to the loud and large-hearted. These are the tales that wriggled their way beneath the skin, working a groove in the mind to surprise, impress, or merely to remain memorable. We hope that readers will be as moved, unsettled, and dazzled, as we found ourselves in their reading.
*The Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, now in its eighth year, s an annual prize hosted by Aesthetica Magazine. It is as an opportunity for emerging and established writers to showcase their work to an international audience, and the winners and finalists are published in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual - a collection of new writing in poetry and short fiction. For more information visit www.aestheticamagazine.com/creativewriting