Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Fabulous Short Story

During my 4-year tenure at a 2-year career college, I taught a literature class based on the short story. Usually, I could count on one or more students grumbling during the first few class sessions that this class had nothing to do with what they were studying and they did not understand why they had to take it. Some told me that they never read fiction. Well, I'm not sure whether I ever converted any of these students to eager short story readers, but I'd like to think they left the class with a little more respect for the form.

I used several strategies to reach the reluctant students.

First, of course, I justified the course from the school's point of view. It sharpens students evaluative and writing skills. It acquaints them with several famous authors and broadens them. (I was always amazed that many of them had never even heard of Ernest Hemingway.) This defense of the course was probably the weakest in my toolkit. It was the "party line," and most had already heard it from advisers or other students.

Second, I tried to relate the short story to other familiar written and oral forms. The Bible, I told them, has many parables or short stories. Then, I said we all tell short stories. The oral form of the short story is alive and well in the everyday experiences and adventures we recount to our family and friends.

A good strategy was to make the most of the stories they were likely to find most interesting. I could count on almost everyone liking "The Most Dangerous Game," by Richard Connell. It was the first story in the text anthology, and a good one to teach the different types of conflict--man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self. Another story that had broad appeal was Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Another technique for stories that had dialogue was to assign students to read character parts. Again, "The Most Dangerous Game" was good for this.

I also showed several films based on short stories. Some excellent films I used were "Paul's Case" (Willa Cather), "Everyday Use" (Alice Walker), "The Lottery" (Shirley Jackson), and "Smooth Talk" (based on "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been") with great acting by Laura Dern and Treat Williams. Though William Faulker's "Barn Burning" was not in the text, I would sometimes show the excellent film based on it to give them a feel for Faulkner's writing. (Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" was the short story in the text.) I found all these films at the public library.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Still Crazy magazine

To visit Still Crazy, a magazine that publishes poetry, fiction and non-fiction by and/or about people over age fifty, go to The editor's blog is also found on the web site.