This course traces the formal and thematic developments of the American short story in the period after 1945, focusing on the contexts from which contemporary authors of the short story emerge. Such contexts will include the popularity of the “creative writing workshop” (or MFA program), as well as changing publishing conditions (such as the rise of the university-sponsored journal and the popularity of magazines such as The New Yorker). Students will also examine innovations in the short story form during this period (including a consideration of the legacy of what John N. Duvall has called the “institutionalization” of minimalism, that “unacknowledged hegemony of creative writing programs”); subsequent battles between “Realism” and postmodern metafiction, as well as other questions of genre and style; and the short story’s engagement with history (including World War II, the Cold War years and its various political upheavals, and the events of 9/11). Students will also consider the important challenge, by emerging American Indian, Asian, Latino/a, Indigenous, and African American, among other “ethnic” and/or minority writers, to the canon of short fiction previously crowded with white male authors. Overall, consideration of the selected literary and (occasionally) theoretical or sociological texts will serve as the basis for discussions about changes in the formal and thematic characteristics of the short story in the contemporary United States, as well as the ways in which literary (and popular) culture register and/or refashion contemporary reading practices.
Authors may include J. D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Robert Coover, Alice Walker, Donald Barthelme, James Baldwin, Tim O’Brien, David Foster Wallace, A. M. Homes, George Saunders, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Philip K. Dick, John Barth, Cynthia Ozik, Sherman Alexie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lydia Davis.