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 the spectrum.

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 did.

Dan Chaon

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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