THE CONTEMPORARY (AMERICAN) SHORT STORY — Spring 2015
Sarah Lawrence College, MFA program | Tao Lin

*This is my syllabus from 2015. View 2012 syllabus for same class here.

In this class we will read/discuss/examine stories that are (1) <14,000 words (2) labeled fiction (3) published after ~1960 (4) published first in America. We will consider how each story makes us feel and what thoughts we have at what moments in each story. We will try to determine why (due to which sentences, words, images, connections, and which of our own preferences and experiences) we feel or think what we do about each story. We will discern general, author-specific, and story-specific techniques, structures, and title types. We will examine story beginnings and endings. We will consider why each story was written and what message or emotion or mood the author wanted to convey, explore, memorialize, or organize.

Each week, I will ask the class to write about or otherwise respond to the next week’s stories in a certain way. Please email me your responses before 3PM each Monday, at least 3 hours before class. I’ll print copies for everyone and bring them — and other texts like author interviews/essays — to class. I encourage students to email me questions about the class or short stories at any time.

1/26

No class due to snow

2/2

Introduction

2/9

James Purdy (1914–2009)

“Color of Darkness” from Color of Darkness (1957)

“Cutting Edge” from Color of Darkness (1957)

Donald Barthelme (1931–1989)

“Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning” from Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (1968)

2/16

Ann Beattie (1947-)

“Dwarf House” from Distortions (1976)

“Shifting” from Secrets and Surprises (1978)

John Barth (1930-)

“Life-Story” from Lost in The Funhouse (1968)

“A Few Words About Minimalism” essay from New York Times (1986)

2/23 “Kmart Realism”/”minimalism”

Frederick Barthelme (1943-)

“Driver” from Chroma (1987)

“On Being Wrong, Convicted Minimalist Spills Beans” essay from New York Times (1988)

Bobbie Ann Mason (1940-)

“Graveyard Day” from Shiloh and Other Stories (1982)

Raymond Carver (1938–1988)

“Preservation” from Cathedral (1983)

Mary Robison (1949-)

“Pretty Ice” from Days (1979)

Amy Hempel (1951-)

“In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” from Reasons To Live (1985)

Kim Herzinger

“Introduction: On the New Fiction” essay from Mississippi Review (1985)

Madison Smartt Bell (1957-)

“Less is Less” essay from Harper’s (1986)

3/2 Joy Williams (1944-)

“Train” from Taking Care (1982)

“Rot” from Escapes (1990)

“Shifting Things” essay from The Writer on Her Work (1992)

“Why I Write” essay from Ill Nature (2001)

“Honored Guest” from Honored Guest (2005)

“The Visiting Privilege” from Honored Guest (2005)

3/9 post 2000 1/2

Trinie Dalton “Bienvenido el Duende” from Wide Eyed (2005)

Sam Pink (1983-) “Juliana” from Hurt Others (2011)

Deb Olin Unferth (1969-) “La Peña” from Minor Robberies (2007)

Ofelia Hunt “Don’t Slide The Couches” from bearparade.com (2006)

Matthew Rohrer (1970-) “Dog Boy” & “Mongolian Death Worm” from A Green Light (2004)

Dylan Nice “A Short Essay on the War” from Other Kinds (2012)

Mallory Whitten (1993-) “knife girl” from Collected Stories & Poems (2014)

3/16 & 3/23

Spring break

3/30 Lorrie Moore (1957-)

“How to Become a Writer” from Like Life (1985)

“You’re Ugly, Too” from Like Life (1990)

“People Like That Are The Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk” from Birds of America (1998)

“Paper Losses” from Bark (2014)

4/6 post-2000 2/2

Rebecca Curtis (1976-) “The Wolf at the Door” from Twenty Grand (2007)

Stacey Levine “The Tree” from The Girl With Brown Fur (2011)

Linh Dinh (1963) “!” from Blood and Soap (2004)

Trinie Dalton “Shrub of Emotion” from Baby Geisha (2012)

Sam Pink (1983-) “Treasure Island” from Hurt Others (2011)

Deb Olin Unferth (1969-) “Deb Olin Unferth” from Minor Robberies (2007)

4/13 NOON

Diane Williams (1946-)

“Very, Very, Red” from Romancer Erector (2001)

NOON Magazine, issue 15

4/20 Lydia Davis (1947-)

“Story” from Break It Down (1986)

“Cockroaches in Autumn” from Break It Down (1986)

“Five Signs of Disturbance” from Break It Down (1986)

“Glenn Gould” from Almost No Memory (1997)

“The Silence of Mrs. Iln” from Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001)

“Thyroid Diary” from Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001)

“The Caterpillar” from Varieties of Disturbance (2007)

4/27

Charles R. Johnson (1948-)

“China” from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1986)

“Kwoon” from Dr. King’s Refrigerator (2005)

Charles R. Jackson (1903–1968)

“The Boy Who Ran Away” from Earthly Creatures (1953)

5/4

David Foster Wallace (1962–2008)

“The Depressed Person” from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999)

“Good Old Neon” from Oblivion (2004)

John Haskell

“Dream of a Clean Slate” from I Am Not Jackson Pollock (2003)

5/11

Kelly Link (1969-)

“The Cannon” from Magic for Beginners (2005)

Curtis Sittenfeld (1975-)

“1993–94” from Mississippi Review (1999)

Todd Hasak-Lowy (1969-)

“The End of Larry’s Wallet” from The Task of This Translator (2005)

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Tao Lin

Tao Lin

4.7K Followers

I’m the author of Leave Society (2021), Trip (2018), Taipei (2013), other books. Visit my website at https://taolin.us.