Friday, May 2, 2014

Short Story Friday! 5/2

Happy Short Story Month everyone!

In honor of this wonderful month-long celebration, the University of Missouri Press is proud to introduce Short Story Fridays: every Friday, all May long, we will be posting lists of some of our favorite short story collections from here at UMP.

So kick back, take a little time (really, you only need a little - they are short stories, after all) and indulge in some great reading.

The Early Simple Stories
by Langston Hughes, ed. Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper

Jesse B. Semple first sprang to life in Langston Hughes's weekly Chicago Defender column in 1943. Almost immediately, the "Simple stories," as they were routinely called, had a large and ever-increasing audience. Simple soon became Harlem's Everyman—an ordinary black workingman, representative of the masses of black folks in the 1940s.

Simple had migrated to Harlem, like many other blacks, seeking to escape the racism of the South, and he celebrated his new freedoms despite the economic struggles he still confronted. Simple's bar buddy and foil in the stories is the better-educated, more articulate Boyd, who has never lived in the South. Their conversations permit Simple to speak the wisdom of the working class.

Countless exchanges between Simple and his companion offer wit and wisdom that remind contemporary readers why Langston Hughes is so special.

What We Come in For
by Richard Lundquist

Down there, in the heartland, lies Paradise—the fictional town that forms the heart of Richard Lundquist's collection What We Come in For. Like the sturdy quilt or linoleum floor, these stories are individually remarkable yet intimately connected: a fatherless boy whose affection for an unsavory hired hand is at odds with his own sense of rectitude; a woman who leaves her empty house only to find a greater emptiness in the arms of the town minister; a vagabond son who returns for his mother's funeral and begins to salvage his own life and hers by transgressing the laws and customs of Paradise. All of the stories share the same landscapes and landmarks—the M & P CafĂ©, the Greener Pasture, and Turk's Bluff—and all convey the sense of loss, fear, and helplessness that characterizes this heartland.

Lundquist's characters share a history that is portrayed in vignettes between stories. These vignettes are like dimly remembered dreams—of locust plagues, windsickness, flood, and fire—that fade against the pulse of the day. Yet they are the thread that connects each separate patch of the quilt, unifying Lundquist's vision.

The Way to Cobbs Creek
by Dabney Stuart 

In the title story of Dabney Stuart's second collection of short fiction, Mark Random—grown from the childhood and adolescent complexities of Sweet Lucy Wine into his own fatherhood—seeks both to remember and to create his father, Seth. His search moves backward and forward in time, weaving memories of his own children toward the focusing experience with Seth that concludes the story. "[There seemed] in the uniformity of their routines something established long before they were born to their parts in it, a compromise, almost instinctive, with forces too immense and subtly intertwined to be faced head on." Stuart uses a sequence of scenes--fishing trips, gathering for meals, moments of solitary musing--to give context to and complement formally these tentative evocations.

Stories from the Heart: Missouri's African American Heritage
Compiled by Gladys Caines Coggswell 

All along the river, from the front porches of Hannibal to the neighborhoods of St. Louis to the cotton fields of the Bootheel and west to Kansas City, stories are being told.
This collection of family stories and traditional tales brings to print down-home stories about all walks of African American life. Passed down from grandparents and great-grandparents, they have been lovingly gathered by Gladys Caines Coggswell as she visited Missouri communities and participated in storytelling events over the last two decades. These stories bring to life characters with uncommon courage, strength, will, and wit as they offer insight into African American experiences throughout the state’s history.
by Ruth Hamel 

There's one thing I know: Lies hold people together.

So says the narrator of the title story, a furniture refinisher who prides herself on her talent for sidestepping the facts. If only she weren't continually frustrated by her truth-telling older sister. If only the past would keep its distance.

In My Favorite Lies, Ruth Hamel uses a unique blend of humor, irony, and sharp detail to explore the lies people tell each other—not just the fibs, prevarications, and exaggerations, but the deceptions that spring from deliberate silence. These stories also examine the lies we tell ourselves as we struggle to bridge the gap between who we are and who we'd rather be.

Field Observations
by Rob Davidson 

Field Observations, the debut fiction collection from Rob Davidson, contains stories about people who find themselves at difficult turning points in their lives—times when they are faced with hard choices, broken promises, and the fear of self-destruction. Davidson's characters are diverse: a retired math teacher, an auto repair worker, a technical writer, a nurse living overseas. What connects them is the way Davidson renders each character with essential human dignity, regardless of his or her flaws. This collection addresses such contemporary concerns as love relationships, cultural interaction, divorce, aging, and alcoholism in a lively, sometimes offbeat way.

What I Cannot Say to You
by Vanessa Furse Jackson 

You are still there in everything I do, watching over me, looking down on me. Sitting beside you on the drawing-room sofa, with Edie on your other side, I hear your deep clear voice above us, your breath ruffling the hair on the top of my head if you turn towards me, and I watch your long hands turn the pages, your rings sparkling in the yellow light.

Set in England, these are stories that explore the basic nature of friendship: how friendships are formed and deepened, how they can be betrayed and lost. There are friendships between children, married couples, sisters, women, and between grandparents and grandchildren. Throughout, these friendships are tested, coming up against outside forces and internal conflicts that alter or destroy them.

by William Hoffman 

The southern landscape that pervades William Hoffman's latest collection of short stories, Doors, is at once familiar and unsettling. Returning to the people and locales that define Hoffman's fiction—ranging from the rednecks and the white-collar elite of Virginia's tobacco country to the families that work its Tidewater shores—Doors is a brilliant and moving exploration of individuals continually at odds with their circumstances.

Primarily set in Tobaccoton, a fictional town in southside Virginia, the stories in this collection open doors on a multifaceted humanity, men and women often in search of obsessive identities or ideals—cross-class marriages and romances, adultery within class and outside it, and the inevitable consequences of behavior. At times Hoffman's characters face such challenges with nobility and grace; at other times they run from all hope of ever truly understanding the situations laid before them. In short, they abide.

Empty Bed Blues
by George Garrett 

The fifteen stories of George Garrett’s Empty Bed Blues (his eighth book-length collection) are vintage Garrett—no two alike—with each moving, one way and another, in new and daring directions. His stories are deeply concerned with the old verities of love and death and filled with the joys and woes of characters who come to life and command our attention.

In the marriage of fact and fiction, of comedy and pathos, and the music of many voices, the stories of Empty Bed Blues reconfirm the judgment of novelist and story writer Richard Bausch, who said in 1998: “There is no writer on the American scene with a more versatile, more eclectic, or more restless talent than George Garrett."

Be sure to keep checking back every Friday during Short Story Month for a new list!

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