Survival of the smallest: the contested history of the English short story

James Joyce Reports of the form’s death – and rebirth – have always been greatly exaggerated. “The short story is enjoying a powerful renaissance”, ran a in the Spectator in September last year. “After decades of neglect,” it added, “the genre is much back in fashion.” This isn’t true, but when it comes to short stories fake news is ubiquitous. Other announcements of the short-story renaissance include one in 2014, when the Daily Telegraph it “the perfect literary form for the 21st century” because brevity suits our dwindling attention span (more on the stupidity of that argument later); in 2013, when the short-story specialists Alice Munro and Lydia Davis won the Nobel and the Man Booker International Prizes, respectively; and in 2012, which Bloomsbury proclaimed “the year of the short story”, publishing five collections in as many months. It is often that publishers don’t like short stories because don’t sell: it’s assumed this proves that readers don’t like either. Yet, rather than accept the genre as a minority interest, is always someone – a journalist, a prize jury, a publisher – announcing its comeback. While bitter experience has shown poetry exactly […]

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