The rise of the short story


Short stories are in the ascendant. As a literary genre it flourished in the nineteenth century, was popular amongst modernist writers like Katherine Mansfield, saw a resurgence with writers such as Raymond Carver in the seventies and eighties, has seen a huge growth once again in recent years.

In 2017, almost 50% more short story collections were sold than in the previous year. Short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. The Times Literary Supplement reflected in 2012 that the short story ‘has perhaps never been more alive’ and in the following year the New York Times announced that short stories were ‘experiencing a resurgence.’ Storytelling nights are popping up everywhere. For a long time dismissed as just a step on a writer’s path to publishing a novel, short stories are now seen as an enjoyable and commendable end in themselves.

The London Short Story Prize is committed on finding the best short stories from the best emerging writers in the capital. It’s a celebration of the short form.

Just because they are short, doesn’t mean that they are easy to write. It can take just as much effort to write a few hundred words as it can a few thousand. The difference is in the focus. Clare Fisher is a judge for this year’s London Short Story Prize and won the inaugural prize in 2013. ‘Short stories are great because, when done well, they deliver a complete and satisfying experience that gains its energy as much from what is written as from what they leave out,’ she says. ‘Short stories can transform a “dead” hour – staring at the back of a stranger’s neck on the tube to work; waiting at the doctor’s surgery, etc – into something riotously alive.’

Perhaps their accessibility and demand of only a short period of time is what makes them so appealing to modern readers. With attention spans stretched and downtime limited, we find in short stories an opportunity to be entertained or challenged, even if for the briefest of periods. In many ways it is a form perfect for the twenty first century reader.

Guy Gunaratne agrees that the form can be challenging to write, but offers a lot to the reader. ‘A great short story attempts the impossible. It’s a form that demands much of a writer. It needs to be to find something that compels a reader, that nourishes a reader, and leaves a lasting impression with so few words.’

Short stories may be brief in length, but their potential to educate, inspire and entertain is immense. As more and more writers explore the form, and more and more readers learn to enjoy it, this short form will continue to have a long life.

Published 29 July 2018