Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Most Important Short Story Writers for 10-10-10

Since I'm a sucker for commemorative occasions and symbolic dates, how could I resist posting a list of “ten” to commemorate the tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year of the century. We will never see another. So here is my list of the 10 most important short story writers in the history of the genre, with a brief note explaining why I think they are so important.

Giovanni Boccaccio
Because he transformed the oral tale into written literary art

Edgar Allan Poe

Because he recognized that pattern was more important than plot

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Because he populated symbolic romance stories with as-if-real characters

Anton Chekhov
Because he created “realistic” stories with symbolic significance

James Joyce
Because he recognized that short fiction was a spiritual “showing forth”

Eudora Welty

Because she created a world of mythic meaning out of common folk

Flannery O’Connor

Because she understood that true reality of short fiction was the realm of the sacred

Raymond Carver

Because he created haunting recognitions out of the most minimal of materials

William Trevor

Because he subtly suggests the secret lives of us all

Alice Munro
Because she’s Alice Munro


More on the divine Alice next week when I post an extended analysis of her new story in the Oct. 11 New Yorker, “Corrie.”

I welcome all suggestions of disagreements, deletions, or other alterations to this list, with justifications for the aforesaid. But that doesn't mean I will change my mind.

13 comments:

mel u said...

very interesting list-in my mind one I would for sure put Katherine Mansfield, Guy de Maupassant ande maybe Virginia Woolf on the list-

Charles E. May said...

No room for everyone, of course, ml u, when my limit is ten. But for me Mansfield is an imitation of Chekhov; Maupassant is too much a melodramatist; and
Woolf is a better novelist than a short story writer.

Kseniya Melnik said...

Looking forward to your Munro analysis.

Ulrica said...

Not that I necessarily disagree with the list of ten offered, but just to come up with other possibilities. What about Lorrie Moore for humorous and sharp analyses of the human condition.

Charles E. May said...

Ulrica, thanks for your continued interest in my blog. I did not include Moore in the top ten because even though she makes me laugh out loud, she doesn't make me think or feel very deeply. She is the kind of writer that reviewers like to call "virtuosic" for her "mordant wit." And she certainly is clever; but cleverness is not wisdom. I enjoy stories like "You're Ugly Too" and "People Like that Are the Only People Here," but I somehow feel they are played for the laugh and the wit--not for the mind and the heart.

Michelle said...

The glaring omission, in my opinion, is Truman Capote. His short-stories are much under-rated.

Charles E. May said...

Well, Michelle, as much as I love such stories as "Miriam," "Tree of Night," and the nostalgic "It's fruitcake weather" refrain of the Christmas story, I would have to put Eudora Welty over Truman Capote for the kind of mysterious mythic story they both do so well. Also, he only has that one collection, which is not as insightful or complex, in my opinion, as the two collections of Flannery O'Connor. I like his stories, but do not think they are as important as the stories of the ten I chose. Thanks so much for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Your list, I feel, is very accurate. However, since the list is 10 rather than 15, I would personally omit Ray Carver and replace him with Andre Dubus. Dubus manages to create a subtle but perfect phrase, as well as his ability to deliver his characters from their failures to redemption. Carver's "A Small Good Thing" comes to mind, one of his better, more developed stories, but one that if read with the eye of a fiction writer rather than that of a fan, the mechanics of the story are blaringly obvious, and in my opinion shattering Gardner's Fictional Dream. Like I said, if it were 15, I would definitely include Carver, but as it's only
10, I think Dubus demands more recognition over a writer who's become curiously commercial amongst those who adore short fiction. But the beautiful thing about fiction, or art in general, is that each individual brings to the table his/her own personal aesthetic tastes, which has led to our amazing cannon of short story writers.

Anonymous said...

I know this is months too late, but what about Jorge Luis Borges? No other short story writer has created such astounding fictional worlds or played with the constructs of the form like he has.

Anonymous said...

Charles, I love your blog and am very thankful for your dedication in providing such erudite and stimulating commentary. There are any number of short story writers I admire, but it seems to me that your list is mostly about those writers who have in some way fundamentally advanced or changed the form, and that is why they are considered important. On that basis, would you not see that there is a compelling case for the inclusion of Hemingway? If it had to be at someone's expense, I would say with some regret, that it would be my own countryman, William Trevor. Trevor is of course important, but I am not sure that he fundamentally advanced or changed the form. Interestingly, Hemingway is completely excluded from both volumes of the Granta Book of the American Short Story, edited by Richard Ford. That to me seemed bizarre, unless there was some sort of copyright difficulty. With kind regards, René Rosenstock, County Wicklow, Ireland.

shing Lin yoong said...

Firstly I feel very lucky to find your blog! And secondly, where is Ivan Turgenev, Jorge Borges, Nikolai Gogol, and Franz Kafka? Apart from not finding one of the four in your list, I find yours wholly agreeable and I look forward to reading your archives!

P.S. I would boot out Flannery O'Connor for Frank O'Connor :D

Charles E. May said...

Thanks to shing Lin yoong for her comment on my choice of the "big ten." And I agree with her additions, except for replacing Flannery with Frank. If I had made a list of twenty, certainly Turgenev, Borges, Gogol, and Kafka would have been there. Actually, I was not listing my favorites, but rather those who had the most influence on the development of the short story as a form--and certainly Gogol is one.

Theorbys said...

I think you can gain a little redemption for your omissions on 12-12-12. I'm lobbying for Borges, who secured for the short story a labyrinthine intellectual brilliance not seen since Poe, and Kafka who is so unfathomably mysterious and yet so strangely familiar.