I recently read Best American Short Stories 2010, edited this year by Richard Russo who is one of my favorite writers. Straight Man? Amazing. Empire Falls? Amazing. My expectations were high. I generally enjoy reading BASS because it gives me a sense of what the literary establishment considers “the best” from year to year. I may not enjoy all the stories in a given year’s anthology but I am always impressed by the overall competence in each chosen story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story in BASS and thought, “How did that get in there?” At the same time, I often find the BASS offerings to be shamefully predictable. The stories are often sedate and well-mannered even when they are supposedly not. I don’t see a lot of risk taking and more than anything else, I don’t see a lot of diversity in the stories being told. This year, though, BASS really outdid itself. Almost every story in the anthology was about rich or nearly rich white people to the point where, by the end of reading the book, I was downright offended. I know people will disagree with my thoughts here and that’s fine, but I really think shit is fucked up in literary publishing. That’s coarse but I cannot think of a better way to convey my frustration. Anytime I talk about this issue, that’s the best way I can encapsulate my feelings. This issue has been on my mind for a couple weeks (and years) and two things triggered my… current pre-occupation with whose stories are or are not being told.
Four years before he died, Isaac Bashevis Singer visited Carbondale, Illinois, at the invitation of the Southern Illinois University English Department, and on money mostly from the Honors College. It must have been some visit. Both times I’ve visited SIUC for their Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival, there was no after-reading bar talk that was entirely Singerless. In the introduction to the new Best American Short Stories, Richard Russo, who taught there at the time, relates Singer’s formulation of the purpose of literature (First, to entertain; Second, to instruct; and in that order, and that order only.) My favorite account of Singer’s visit is recorded by Rodney Jones, in his estimable poetry collection Elegy for the Southern Drawl:
The Limousine Bringing Isaac Bashevis Singer to Carbondale
A town is the size of a language.
In four more years he would be dead, but now, READ MORE >