The editors at Wigleaf sent me the 200 stories on their longlist in
January, and asked me to narrow it down to 50. It didn't seem like it
would be a difficult task, but after a few days of shuffling stories
between "yes," "no" and "maybe" and then back again, I began to realize
that I am not really that good at being a judge of things.
So I enlisted the students in my Advanced Fiction Workshop at Oberlin
College, where I teach. They are young, I figured, and quick to love or
hate, and more decisive than I am. I made them read all 200
stories and asked them to choose their ten favorites. We went through
the stories one by one, and not surprisingly, there was little
agreement. Very few individual stories made it onto multiple top ten
lists. It was kind of crazy.
In the end, we didn't quite reach a consensus, but after three hours of
discussion I was able to go back to the longlist with a fresh
perspective. Sometimes, listening to my students talk about their
favorite stories helped me discover a new appreciation for pieces I had
overlooked. Other times, I found myself jumping to defend a story that
a student dismissed or criticized. In any case, I found that I had
finally solidified my choices.
A few issues emerged. Firstly, as a genre, the "very short story"
exists in a twilight realm, a continuum in which some pieces seemed
very clearly to be fiction and some seemed very clearly to be prose
poems and most landed somewhere in between. My own prejudice tends to
be toward the narrative end of things, and my first instinct was toward
more traditional fictional pieces. That being said, some of my absolute
favorites—like Ryan Griffith's "Thrill of Fire" and Kristine
Ong Muslim's "Quarter of a Body"—came from the poetic end of
While I made an effort to represent the variety of formal approaches to
the genre and a diversity of subject matter, I did let my own
subjective taste cloud my judgement. In the end, I chose the stories
that I liked the best, the ones that I wanted to return to and re-read,
the ones that most firmly lodged in my mind and my heart.
I hope you will enjoy reading them and thinking about them as much as I
Dan Chaon's most recent book is the short story collection Stay Awake.
He teaches at Oberlin College in Ohio.
To link to this directly: http://wigleaf.com/12top50intro.htm
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