post-gazette.com
 Pittsburgh, Pa.
Contact Search Subscribe Classifieds Lifestyle A & E Sports News Home
A&E Recipes  Media Kit  Personals 
Tv Listings
The Dining Guide
Fashion
post-gazette.com to go
Books
Writer looks forward to short fiction's revival

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

The 1980s were the golden age of the short story. Raymond Carver set the pace with a minimalist writing style fine-tuned to reflect his tales of ordinary lives caught in quiet desperation.

Author and Drue Heinz Prize judge Rick Moody says short fiction is an ideal medium for experimentation.

He had many followers -- Ann Beattie, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Richard Ford and Mary Robison among them -- whose collections found critical acceptance and significant sales.

It was also the decade when the Drue Heinz Prize for short fiction was launched. Funded by its namesake, the widow of H.J. Heinz II, and managed by the University of Pittsburgh Press, it began in 1981, just in time to catch the wave of the short story renaissance.

Tomorrow night, the 23rd Heinz Prize winner, Susan Greenberg, will take her bows with a public reading in Oakland.

Writer Rick Moody, the judge who picked her collection, "Speed-Walk," is a student of that 1980s revival. He'll also be reading selections of his own.

Moody was a graduate writing student then, a time when Carver and others "seemed to have brought a new energy to the form," he said.

"It was an exciting moment to be a writer of short fiction, which is what I thought of myself then, and because the moment was so exciting, there were many places to sell a short story."

But times change -- In these first years of the 21st century, the novel is at center stage, a "historical interval," according to Moody, "where it's quite difficult to publish short fiction."

"The magazines are less interested, the publishers are less interested, etc.," he said. "The novel, in the popular imagination, seems much more readable than a short fiction collection.

"What a disappointment. I look forward to when the pendulum swings back in the direction of readers and writers of the short story."

Moody has written three novels -- "Garden State," "The Ice Storm" and "Purple America" -- but only one short-story collection, "Demonology." That lone collection doesn't mean he's put the short story aside, however.

"I'm working on a novel right now but, as ever, on some stories, too," he said. "I have been particularly interested, in the last two years in the form called the 'short short,' " describing the form as similar to a prose poem.

The short story is well suited to experimentation, Moody said, because there's less time invested.

"If you fail with a short story, you have only risked a few weeks or a month," he said. "Whereas, when you fail with a novel, you have risked several years. So for me, the brevity of the short fiction form makes it perfect for risks and experiments."

He cited such 19th-century writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe and 20th-century authors Vladimir Nabokov and Donald Barthelme as examples.

They were "quite restless with short fiction, always looking for new ways to make the form sing," he said.

The free Drue Heinz Prize reading is at 8:30 p.m. in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Oakland.


Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.

Previous articles:

E-mail this story E-mail this story  Print this story Printer-friendly page


Search |  Contact Us |  Site Map |  Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise |  About Us |  What's New |  Help |  Corrections
Copyright ©1997-2007 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.