Press Conference Aftermath

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Writers and their fans love a party.
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Hem fishing

Ernest Hemingway was able to squeeze in some trout fishing at a nearby river early that morning.
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Fans of Walt Whitman greeted his entrance into town, then followed him everywhere.
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We were surprised at how much trash talking the “Big Four” writers did at the event, especially Mark Twain and Whitman. Apparently it’s an American tradition of long standing. You get a hint of this in our initial report.

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Our reporter Mel Diper (@meldiper) did three interviews before becoming indisposed. Here are statements gleaned from his notes:

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Poet Maya Angelou:  “I was exquisitely gratified by the experience, I truly was. A spring tonic to renew the spirit. Such men. I feared entanglement with brutes! But they were, all four of them– even Ernest– very charming.”
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george plimpton at cafe

Participatory Journalist George Plimpton:  “I met the organizer of this event once before, you know. Don’t trust him!” (To a waitress): “I believe I’ll have a be-ah.” (Note: beer.) “It’s been ye-ahs” (years) “since I had one.” (An assistant of Plimpton’s pays for the beer. Like many writers of his station, George never carries money.)
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Mary McCarthy

Critic/Novelist Mary McCarthy:  “Young man, have you been drinking too much? You are not looking well!”
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Stay tuned for more reports from the venue!

More #1 Seeded Writers

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

We fill in the other two #1 spots in our Tournament brackets with two other legendary names from the past.

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C.) Herman Melville. What does one do with Moby Dick? One of the other top competitors, Toni Morrison, explained once in a long essay the novel’s symbolism and significance. Talk about writing about America! The Pequod with its hierarchy, mad captain, and multi-cultural crew remains a striking metaphor about the country and concept “America.” What do they chase? That which Melville, writing ten years before the Civil War, saw as America’s founding flaw– the “white whale.” An allusion to slavery at minimum. I doubt if any novel ever written by anyone anywhere has been more ambitious– ambitious in terms of discussing the world, nature, society– and ambitious in looking inward toward man’s sins and soul. It’s also a great yarn. Lest we think this was all Melville wrote, he began as a popular novelist, wrote some classic short stories, including one, “Bartleby,” which in our cubicle work world is more relevant today than ever. Herman finished his career with a great novella, “Billy Budd,” just to show he still had it. But Moby Dick. A novel which can stand with any novel written by the world’s best, even the Russians.
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D.) Mark Twain. We happily bow to the voice of the crowd on this selection. As a persona he’s up there with anyone. He has his undeniable masterpiece, other classic works, fantastic essays and a few good stories. If we’re talking about which writers defined the culture and the American voice, then figures like Twain have an undeniable edge. We also can’t deny there was a time when American lit was much bigger in cultural importance than it is now. But be aware– there are many brackets to fill. A wide variety of voices will be announced.
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(We will be staging a press conference at which all four #1 seeded writers will be present. At least, we have commitments from them. Could be exciting.)

The Dreiser Dilemma

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AS PART of our preparation for the All-Time American Writers Tournament, we’re re-reading several classic American writers to see, frankly, if they’re any good. The National Football League has their “combine” for evaluating talent. This is the stage we’re in now.

How are the writers doing?

Not that well. Perhaps worst of all is Theodore Dreiser, who wrote at least two historically significant novels. I just completed reading one of them, Sister Carrie. While one can see why the book was controversial in its day, by our “Pop Lit” standards it doesn’t hold up– even though it was a populist novel. The word-clotted style doesn’t help it. The narrative never creates momentum or excitement. The plot becomes predictable about halfway through– from that point the story is a slowly winding-down dirge. It’s a poorer read than a Rex Beach novel we recently reviewed, written in the same time period. But Dreiser’s book was “Literature,” don’t ya know.

THE QUESTION

The question is: How far do we go in keeping writers in context– in giving them credit for their importance in their own era? We don’t wish to completely discount that– but, we also plan to bring objectivity to this tournament.

Do we then also bring the same criteria we’re bringing to Dreiser (“Show us how good you are!”) to more recent, trendy authors?

David Foster Wallace is as unreadable as Dreiser– except in the opinion of his fan club, a well-connected, over-educated clique which carries weight in today’s lit world. Putting Wallace into context might work to his detriment. His writing may be as obsolete in 100 years as Dreiser’s is now.

Dilemmas! Dilemmas! We’ll post our criteria soon. . . .

Fun Pop Poetry #15

bob-dylan

“Two Topical Poems” from Bruce Dale Wise

The Sinister Clown Craze
by Earl Dolan Page

Creating horror has its consequences, one can see.
Watch out what you promote—a creepy clown conspiracy.
“Hey guys it’s time to cool the clown hysteria,” he tweets;
but even Steven King must deal with these horrid treats.
His fictive nightmares now are coming to reality;
and creepy clowns, as weird as him, are running down our streets.
The creepy clown craze that is escalating coincides
with Hollywood’s remake of Steven King’s It’s Pennywise.
He says that “most of ’em are good” and “cheer the kiddies up.”
But now he too must drink from his own grim, nightmarish cup.

caruso-as-clown
O, Like a Rolling Stone
by “Weird” Ace Blues

How many songs must a man sing before he’s called a man?
No bell was ringing in the ears of Robert Zimmerman.
The times they are a-changin’, and Bob Dylan has received
the Nobel Prize in Letters, said the joker to the thief.
How does it feel…to have opened the folk-blues-rock door
upon the World stage, electric guitar troubadour,
a champion of the World, in which hard rains continue on,
as they have ever done so since the very crack of dawn?
How better then to be unfettered at a microphone,
freewheeling up and down life’s slopes, o, like a rolling stone?

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(Send your topical fun poems to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)

The Answers II!

ANSWERS TO OUR SECOND BIG LIT QUESTION

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You want answers?

We have answers! At least, answers for our big Hemingway Question, #2 in a series designed to probe the mind of today’s literary community on a variety of topics. Toward that end we asked writers and editors from varied backgrounds to answer our question. We received responses from critics, story writers, novelists, zinesters, journalists, and readers; giving us, we hope, a broad view of Hem’s legacy now. Please google the individual names for bios, works, and websites. Lavish thanks to all who participated.

(Be sure to view the rest of our Hemingway celebration at our main site.)

QUESTION

“What’s your opinion of Ernest Hemingway circa 2016? Is he still relevant?”

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Daniel Menaker, writer/editor

His short, simple sentences still have influence on many writers. Like that sentence. And that.

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Wred Fright, writer

Yes, Hemingway is still relevant. For example, we keep having him write short stories even though he is dead. Look at “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.” Hemingway probably never wrote that, but we like to think he did, and that urban legend spawned a new literary form of six word texts. It’s kind of a stupid form, but it illustrates our desire for more Papa.

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Emerson Dameron, writer/performer

The character that Ernest Hemingway played in his stories is a relic – to imitate that character’s shtick now makes one appear foolish at best. But the writer’s ideas about economy of words apply heavily to digital media (where Faulkner’s “walls of text” wouldn’t build much of a readership), so, at least in a technical sense, Hemingway is more influential than ever. There is also an understated-if-not-unspoken sadness in his style that still speaks to people who can read past the Swashbuckling.

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T.C. Boyle, fiction writer

Great writing is always relevant, as is revolutionary writing. Hemingway–especially in his early great novels and short stories–succeeds on both counts.

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Luc Sante, writer

Hemingway is a great writer and his best works (In Our Time above all else) will never stop being relevant. Once again, though, he’s not the ideal model for young writers today. In my youth the issue was his toxic masculinity, but today the biggest problem is his style, which lacks context. By way of Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson, he brilliantly cleared the Augean stables of purple prose, the legacy of the nineteenth century, and brought a new clean-line astringency that was to become the language of modernism. Today’s young writers seem confused by what style even is. Between writing-as-therapy, Strunk & White, and facebook, people seem to think that flat and bland is the default–and that the only alternative is purple. Because Hemingway’s minimalism can be so easily mistaken for flat-and-bland, I would steer the young away from him.

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Margot Livesey, author

Yes! As a writer, reader and teacher, I find Hemingway piercingly relevant. He writes about war, violence and loneliness with a poetic precision that remains unrivalled.

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Mary Doria Russell, novelist

He never would have gotten an agent today. The manuscripts he submitted needed a great deal of editorial shaping and that doesn’t happen anymore.

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Elif Batuman, writer

Son, this question makes no sense. Literature is relevant to the human condition—it doesn’t have an expiration date. You know what has an expiration date, is discussions about relevance. People go around saying stuff like “Throw Pushkin overboard the Steamship of Modernity,” and then 100 years later they look like assholes because everyone is like “Ha ha, steamships.” Is Hemingway relevant! Ha! Would someone who wasn’t relevant in 2016 be featured on so many iPhone cases?

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Scott Cannon, story writer

Hemingway invented a new style of writing unlike anything that came before or since. Asking if his work is still relevant is like asking if Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is still relevant. Was it ever relevant? Relevant to what?

I love striking imagery, but sometimes get tired of writers trying to say everything in a way that it’s never been said before. I read one such story in this year’s Best American. When I finished it I felt like I had a bad head cold. The only thing for it was to read “Big Two-Hearted River” again. “Nick looked at the burned-over stretch of hillside, where he had expected to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad track to the bridge over the river. The river was there.” The river was there. With that, my head felt clear once more, but I read the rest of it through again anyway. Still not one word on what Nick Adams looks like, but somehow I have a pretty good idea.

A friend once told me how she felt reading Hemingway for the first time as a young girl. “It was like sex,” she said. What more can I add to that?

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“He looked back. The river just showed through the trees.”

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“He wished he had brought something to read. He felt like reading.”

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Jinnie Lee, writer

His writing towards his female characters were rather unkind. Haven’t thought much of Hemingway since high school, but I hope his works are not considered required reading anymore.

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Douglas Lain, writer/publisher

Twenty years ago, when I was starting out writing, I tended to side with Kurt Vonnegut against Hemingway. You may recall that in Vonnegut’s play “Happy Birthday Wanda June” Papa Hemingway is an object of derision. Vonnegut mocks Hemingway for his hypermasculinism, but today I find myself wondering if hypermasculinity can sometimes be a good and necessary thing. I recall that Hemingway’s masculinity always came along with an awareness of human vulnerability.

Anyhow, because of my liberal bent and because of when I was born, I haven’t spent much time reading Hemingway. I know a few of his stories, but not many. Googling up a Hemingway quote I find this one, from For Whom the Bell Tolls:

“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”

This seems relevant to me.

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Anne Leigh Parrish, novelist and short story writer

Absolutely. Hemingway wrote about terror, fear, having no control over events in battle, and the randomness of violence. The recent mass shootings in Orlando confirm that the world he described, though far away in time and place, is still horribly alive, sustained by madmen who hide behind the rhetoric of hate. Hemingway also wrote about the macho culture of men needing to dominate their world. This, too, is very much in evidence today. There are many cultures where men feel entitled to the subservience of woman and anyone perceived as weak or less worthy.

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Andrea Gregovich, writer/translator

I’m a feminist (sort of, kind of) but my favorite writers are almost always men. I love to get lost in the nitty-gritty details of the male gaze, to really resonate, as a woman, with the world as men see it. Why shouldn’t I? Men are half of the human experience, why wouldn’t I want to figure out how they tick? I love how they are capable of writing in such loving detail about things like cars, wars, video games, machinery, hunting, fishing, the female body. Does that make me a bad feminist? I’m not saying there isn’t an abundance of asshole male writers about, but I find plenty whose outlook on everything is beautiful to me.

But even so, I could never much get into Hemingway. His minimalism is so blunt and tightly written, I can admire his prose but can never feel much empathy for his characters. He has no interest in wining and dining me with a poetic experience of male perspective. He is simply so good at his craft that he is always right, never unstable or vulnerable, and that has just never resonated with me as a female reader, even one with a secret jones for the male gaze. I’m sure there are ways in which his themes and metaphors are still very much relevant in contemporary society and all that, but what good are they if I just can’t dig it?

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Christopher Merkner, writer/teacher

I find Hemingway’s short stories to be rare and distinctive examples of heavily crafted literary humor and absurdity. His commitment to melodramatic subtext commits him to a superficial ridiculousness in character and speech that is very slick, tricky to follow and replicate, and perhaps incapable of losing its critical relevance for readers of short fiction.

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Justin Taylor, author

Relevant to who or what? To me personally? Sure, I guess. Not the novels so much, but I always preferred the stories, so this doesn’t qualify as a change in relevance per se. without him you wouldn’t have Andre Dubus or Raymond Carver, to say nothing of conscientious objectors like Donald Barthelme. I probably read all those guys more often than Hemingway himself, but it’s good to get back to the source sometimes, and if you haven’t read him in a while he’s almost definitely funnier and more self-aware than you remember. Far more than he typically gets credit for, at any rate.

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Kelly Cherry, fiction writer and poet

Hemingway’s work is certainly still relevant and will continue to be so for some time. He wrote some wonderful stories; they are stronger than his novels. Readers will continue to read those stories and learn from them. Critics and literature professors are not ready to give up on using him as an exemplar example. Or is the question about Hemingway rather than his work? Despite his heroism in war, he was psychologically fragile. In any case, the definition of “masculinity” has shifted dramatically. Men cook and clean and help the kids with homework. Many men still cheat on their wives, but by no means all of them. Men and women work together. Yes, the men still get paid better, but sooner or later the women will catch up. (Not, however, in my time.) In short, the stories will continue to be celebrated; the macho image is no longer of use.

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Hem on boat color

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Laurence W. Mazzeno, scholar

No American writer save perhaps Mark Twain has entered into the cultural consciousness of the nation as Hemingway has. His works remain in print. His life continues to fascinate the public (witness, for example, the popularity of journalist-turned-professor Paul Hendrickson’s widely reviewed 2011 biography Hemingway’s Boat). Why? Because he has transcended the narrow boundaries of “author” to become a cultural icon. While he may continue to be vilified by intellectuals (and many women) the persona he created for himself remains admired by those who uphold what might be called “traditional male virtues.” Today, perhaps, that isn’t what one ought to be remembered for, but it’s likely Hemingway wouldn’t mind. Instead, he’d probably laugh uproariously at the gentle parody that has used his image to sell Dos Equis beer: he remains, for some at least, “the world’s most interesting man.”

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Jeff Brandt, writer, book lover, cinephile

Hemingway is as relevant in 2016 as ever. People seem to have a misconception of Hemingway as a simple-minded man’s man. He is anything but. When you really read and analyze Hemingway, he is deeply conflicted about masculinity, femininity, what they mean and how much they matter. In The Garden of Eden, he also wrote about polyamory decades before that was a coined term or increasingly popular lifestyle. I also believe there is a timeless and deeply affecting appeal to his stories of comradeship in war.

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Boris Kachka, journalist

Well, I think the implication is that Hemingway might have gone out of style. That may be so, but I don’t think relevance is quite the same thing as fashion. Hemingway was possibly overrated once and now, not so much. Does that make him antediluvian? Certain of his opinions and values are, but so are most of Shakespeare’s, unless you consider the state to be the body of the king. The question of how good Hemingway is should be separate. I think he’s…pretty good! I’ve learned a lot from reading him, and so have writers we consider to be more relevant, like Joan Didion, who started out by retyping his work to learn its rhythms. I wish he’d had a sense of humor, but no writer gives me everything I want (well, maybe Nabokov). And more globally, if the question is whether he should be taught, emulated, etc., the answer is yes. With caveats, but no writer should be taught without caveats.

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Robert McCrum, writer and critic

Going round for round with posterity, Hemingway has taken some knocks, as he did in his lifetime. but for me he’s still in the ring as one of the 20th century masters of American prose. The essential volumes on my Hemingway shelf are The Sun Also Rises, and my Everyman edition of his Collected Stories.

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Samuel Stevens, writer/blogger

Hemingway is my favorite novelist, my second favorite author after Ezra Pound probably. It’s funny though, for all the adoration the New York chattering class has of him, he was never one of them. He, like his contemporaries, was part of an entirely different “scene.” Hemingway’s style was influential, which has been a double edged sword. On one hand, you have writers like Cormac McCarthy who’ve gone one step further than even Papa himself in terms of style with tremendous effect. On the other, you have Raymond Carver who practiced the “iceberg” method with underwhelming results. The difference is, Hemingway had the substance to make his style work. That’s the best lesson with Hemingway.

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John Colapinto, essayist/novelist

You’ve hit on the one author I feel most uncomfortable making a public statement about. As a Canadian, I’m tempted to give full play to my native repulsion for such grandiosity, self-advertisement, over-compensating manliness, and stretches of execrable, self-parodistic writing—and simply offer Nabokov’s famous put down (“bells, balls and bulls”) and E.B. White’s assessment of the late Hemingway (“the farting of an old horse”). But then there is The Sun Also Rises, one of the most original and hilarious and moving novels in existence. And the ravishing Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast which is a masterpiece, despite its unforgivable, ignoble betrayal of his “friend” Fitzgerald (over Scott’s supposed insecurity about his sexual performance of all drearily predictable things). So, I mean, how can anyone feel about old Ernie in 2016? Deeply, deeply divided. Embarrassed and thankful.

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Liesl Schillinger, critic/translator

Yes, Hemingway’s still relevant! The question is almost like asking, “Is the male ego still relevant?” Hemingway strikes me as a “method” writer. That is: he himself inhabits the characters he portrays, at least, the male leads. So the vitality of his prose gets a boost from his personal myth. As I write this, I’m finishing my friend Lesley Blume’s fascinating book on how Hemingway became Hemingway—Everybody Behaves Badly—about his dogged pursuit of fame, and his compulsion for literary innovation. His conviction in himself is breathtaking, all the more so because it was justified. He did innovate. I challenge any 20-year-old to read The Sun Also Rises and not find it arresting and fresh. By way of contrast–I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I associate him with nostalgia. Hemingway, who was Fitzgerald’s age, writes as if he were a generation younger. He still reads like he’s news.

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Scott Beauchamp, writer/journalist

So much of the “bells, balls, and bulls” criticism of Hemingway – of his homemade stoic code that he could never quite live up to, his cult of practical knowledge, and his flirtation with nihilism – ignores his technical achievements as a writer. Those achievements are what keeps Hemingway relevant. Take the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms. It isn’t simply the minimalism that gives the descriptions energy, but, as Hugh Kenner pointed out, the feeling that time has outrun the language in a torrent, and “what memory and prose have fixed is the brief being of what never again will be.” Politics, gender, sexuality aside, it’s this expression of temporal impermanence that continue to give Hemingway’s prose strength and poignancy.

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Hemingway’s Nobel Acceptance Speech

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THANKS EVERYONE!!

Be sure to read this month’s other “Hemingway Day” features.

“Inspired by Death in the Afternoon,” by Jess Mize.

“Diminutives,” a short story by Samuel Stevens.

-Our editors’ journey “Searching for Hemingway.”

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(Main Hemingway photo by Helen Pierce Breaker.)

Our first Big Lit Question is available here.

The Answers!

ANSWERS TO OUR LIT QUESTION OF THE MONTH

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(Why a Lady Gaga photo?)

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We have answers! The answers come from across today’s literary spectrum– at all levels. Please google the individual names for bios, works, and websites. Lavish thanks to all who participated.

We’ve acted in arbitrary fashion in lining up the order of responses. We invite readers and writers alike to post comments about these answers. Which are your favorites? One purpose of literature is to stimulate thought and debate.

But, as Gertrude Stein said, “What is the question?”

QUESTION:

“Does the contemporary short story need to be radically revamped in order to reach a broader audience?”

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Emerson Dameron, writer/performer

ANSWER: Absolutely. I fear that writing for publication has become a hobby for the rich and isolated, and that no one is writing stories about the horrors that the rest of America is experiencing day to day. I mostly read nonfiction now because at least it has some relevance, and that’s a bummer.

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Colum McCann, writer/teacher

ANSWER: No, writers just have to continue splitting open the atom — that’s all, simple as that. Split open the atom, time and time again. And then hope that somebody is there to hear the roar. This is what writers have been doing for hundreds of years and will try to do for hundreds more … if there’s still a world to write about, that is.

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Meakin Armstrong, magazine editor

ANSWER: The market for short fiction is already broad; it’s just that the market is fragmented, thanks to technology. Incredible short fiction is being published right now, and probably more of it is being published than ever before. One unintended consequence of technology, however, is that this avalanche of short fiction has tended to fragment the market. Nearly every day, I hear of a new small press or a new journal—and that’s great. But nonetheless, it’s still one more new journal; one more new press—with presumably only a static number of readers out there. Arguably, the lack of money is freeing, though. At Guernica, I don’t give a rat’s ass about our market, because there’s no money in it, anyway. But writers still need money. Publishers still need money. So if you’ve got money, SEND MONEY. That means actually subscribing to those journals you pretend to read and supporting those presses you say you love. With money, short fiction will figure out its own shit. Just don’t expect to be your friend: all good fiction prefers to bite the hand that feeds it.

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Jessie Lynn McMains, writer/zinester

ANSWER: I’m not sure what “contemporary short story” even means, so I can’t say if it has to be revamped. I think what has to be done is to offer a wide variety of different kinds of short stories to the public.

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Samuel Stevens, writer/blogger

ANSWER: The short story needs to be radically revamped, but not in an overly avant-garde direction. Workshop style fiction dominates school textbooks, informing people’s idea of the format. It may be cliched, but the first objective of any writer is to tell a good story; in this regard, workshop fiction fails because it is dull. The other factor as well is the shift in our culture away from the conceptual to the visual. People who might have picked up a pulp magazine fifty years ago turn on Netflix. While I don’t think the short story (or long form novel) will go away entirely. If the story is to be viable again, writers need to focus on substance and less worrying about MFA program conventions.

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Scott Turow, best-selling author

ANSWER: There should be a broader canon. “The moment of impression” stories pioneered in Dubliners are still effective for me, but stories in the mode of O’Henry should also be valued.

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O Henry Whirligigs

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Benjamin Hale, author

ANSWER: I don’t think so. The short story as a form has been getting radically revamped again and again for at least a hundred years. Any “radical revamping” of any art form always seems like barking up the wrong tree to me, anyway. Ezra Pound said, “Make it new!” He was wrong about that, as he was about many other things. I say, don’t worry about making it “new.” Worry about making it good — that’s hard enough to do.

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Gabriel Roth, editor/writer

ANSWER: I don’t really understand the premise. Who cares if a particular form reaches “a broader audience”? Who has that kind of investment in an abstraction like “the contemporary short story”? And if you did have that kind of investment, why would you want to “radically revamp” the thing you’re so invested in?

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edsel

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Justin Taylor, author

ANSWER: This question is built on a set of assumptions I don’t accept, namely that a standardized form known as “the contemporary short story” exists; that its “radical revamping” is a project for some executive body to carry out (presumably after sparkling for consensus on the new squad goals); and that “a broader audience” is something of inherent value. The first thing is demonstrably false; the second thing is a paranoid fantasy. The third thing is at least debatable, though before we could I’d have to know what constituted broadness, and what “revamping” meant to my work personally. Anyway it strikes me that most contemporary-canonical writers insist on some kind of radical narrowness, choosing depth and intensity over breadth and accessibility: Donald Barthelme, Flannery O’Connor, Joy Williams, Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis… Love or hate ‘em, they’ve won their readerships through originality, audacity, and vessel-breaking—not party programs.

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Carmela Ciuraru, critic/editor

ANSWER: The contemporary short story can’t be defined in the singular. Short fiction is Jhumpa Lahiri, but it’s also Diane Williams. It’s Junot Diaz, but it’s also Robert Stone. It’s Lorrie Moore and Laura van den Berg, Alice Munro and Aimee Bender, Sherman Alexie and George Saunders. I could go on. There is no need to radically revamp what is already a wonderfully diverse and vibrant genre, brimming with talented writers. (And how would one go about revamping it, anyway?) If there’s a problem, it’s that people should read more radically–and read more, period. Anything you could possibly want from a short story is out there, waiting to be discovered.

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T.C. Boyle, renowned story writer

ANSWER: Absolutely. All short stories, no matter where they are set or who the protagonists are, must be filmed with Lady Gaga playing all the principal roles, and distributed intercranially worldwide. Otherwise, if the short story persists in its present form–i.e., in being a glittering object on a page–it is doomed.

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Daniel Menaker, writer/executive editor

ANSWER: Maybe it’s that the broader audience needs to be radically revamped in order to read the contemporary short story.

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The Aldine “O'er Land and Sea.” Library

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Fiona Maazel, writer/professor

ANSWER: No. At least not in some artificial way or in response to some angry call to action. Fiction is always reinventing itself, and great writers are always finding new ways to disrupt the status quo and channel what is most pressing and anguished about being alive in the world as it is today.

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Christopher Merkner, writer/teacher

ANSWER: With all due respect, I think this question needs to be revamped. I’m glad we’re talking about the short story, but I’m not sure I can negotiate the assumptions upon which this particular question rests. But I am grateful you’re asking questions about the short story — that part is good. And thank you for inviting me to think about this.

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Ann Sterzinger, writer/reviewer

ANSWER: Of course it does. I don’t even read short stories anymore. You’re all assholes.

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Jim Gibson, writer/zinester

ANSWER: I think the short story has always been of more interest to other writers than to the general public. It tends to be where writers hone their craft before writing novels. Think of short films. Unless you’re really into film you may never even have seen a short. These are more artistic pursuits that are aware that they will never be commercial, however, the people that read them are actually the people that really care and matter.

That being said, if I was to go about crafting something that as many people as possible would actually read, I would probably look at making it a more immersive experience: if online I’d add music that enhanced it and set the whole page out to complement the story, maybe even produce short trailers for them. I don’t think this would enhance all writing, like my own or the things we publish at Hand Job, but for more straight up genre fiction and standard narratives it would definitely entice people.

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Madison Smartt Bell, renowned story writer

ANSWER: Absolutely. Bring back the Saturday Evening Post but with illustrations by Sue Coe instead of Rockwell.

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(Sue Coe’s artwork is used pending permission.)

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Anne Leigh Parrish, writer

ANSWER: The only thing the contemporary short story needs is a high level of accessible art. Stories should cover every possible aspect of human endeavor and experience in a way that invites readers in. Short stories, like all fiction, have but one goal: to lift us off from reality and startle us into recognition.

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Wred Fright, writer/zinester

ANSWER: Yes. The masses may never be interested in the contemporary short story that appears in literary journals, but they are always interested in good stories, so they can be reached. Many writers today only write for the MFA/university crowd though, so a broader audience is not reached. Writers might be better off skipping the workshop and experimenting with new media instead. Though I am fond of the idea of a poet on every corner (also, I would love a garage band in every garage, except when I am trying to sleep–make art not war), we don’t need every writer to go into debt with student loans to achieve that, and eventually we will realize that and the current multilevel marketing scheme of creative writing programs will collapse. Once writers give up hope of landing a teaching gig and stop playing it safe, then they might become even more interesting.

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Kelly Cherry, renowned story writer

ANSWER: I think the short story is already being revamped via the revival of and new interest in flash fiction and short shorts. But I’d also like to see stories that are longer and deeper than even the usual. It is hard to place such stories, of course, and perhaps readers are reluctant to commit to them, but I favor stories that explore character in a whole and undaunted way. Would they reach a broader audience? I fear not, but they would reach me.

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sat eve post

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John Gorman, writer/blogger

ANSWER: No. I don’t believe so. In fact, modern short stories have been evolving for quite some time. The proliferation of MFA programs and the flood of e-zines have made this possible, but so has the burgeoning popularity of Flash Fiction which has a dedicated and growing readership. Flash Fiction itself has undergone a paradigm shift, paring down to ever snappier pieces and opening up sub-categories. These pithier, and sometimes punchier works, fit nicely into our short attention spans. They also offer a great boon for both print and online journals who want to introduce more writers per issue. Though the actual category is rather nebulous, allowing for stories between 500 – 1000 words, there is a surge of even shorter pieces: micro or sudden fiction (less than 300 words), drabbles (100 words), dribbles (50 words) and 6-word stories. As counterpoint to these sinewy works, I’ve also noticed a rise in novellas.

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Deb Patrick, playwright

ANSWER: I don’t think you can impose a form on any writer. For me, story always suggests form. A writer has to be courageous enough to go where the story takes him or her. It’s the reception that’s the problem — editors and reviewers with narrow vision, wedded to forms they know, rejecting subjects too challenging for them. Ultimately, our audiences will decide — if they get to read what we write.

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Patrick Rapa, journalist

ANSWER: While I’m all for radical departures, I’m also wary of any artistic endeavor that puts audience-seeking at the top of its to-do list. Writers should answer a higher calling, right? But hell, I came of age in the alt-rock ’90s when we all leered at each other like government spies, ready to pounce on the first symptoms of vanity and selloutism. That kind of thinking turned some upright citizens into hypocrites and ghosts of their own potential. No way to live. For writers in search of untouched wildernesses, I say: Seek your readers, learn to distinguish thoughtful criticism from secret hate, and trust your vision above all.

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Andrea Gregovich, writer/translator

ANSWER: We must disregard the contemporary conventions and rules that have had us so constricted, and write stories exactly how we feel like writing. We need to get the writing teachers and critics out of our heads. We must set new rules, revive rules of yore, or reject rules completely, whatever is our thing. And when we free ourselves from the conventional shackles that have made stories so blah for so long, some of our new stories will suck, and some will be brilliant. We need not care which. Those of us writing for the new age of literature need to see our writing as experiment and evolution, and not worry about things being publishable—there’s room on the internet for all of it anyway. We just need to keep plugging away at it. With this approach we can find the ways to make the short story readable and relevant again.

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THANKS EVERYONE!!

Our first print issue containing a dozen new stories is NEW POP LIT #1. Get it!

Our main site is here.

One of our own irrepressible stories.

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Who I Am

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A NOTE FROM KARL WENCLAS

As I find myself chief editor at NEW POP LIT, I’d like to provide readers and supporters information on who I am and what I’m about.

I’ve been involved with all things literary for at least twenty years, when I started writing a literary review newsletter named New Philistine, for which I had many subscribers, and which achieved a portion of notoriety. At the time, I also wrote several essays for established “legitimate” literary publications.

In 2000 I helped form, along with five zinesters, the Underground Literary Alliance, from which I attained more notoriety. I ceased active participation in that endeavor in 2008. During those eight years, I dealt with all kinds of writers and personalities.

Since last year I’ve been involved with this more modest outfit, using a humbler strategy, and milder tactics.

The goal, however, remains the same: to revive literature. To make original artistic reading and writing a mainstream cultural happening.

To achieve that goal I’ll go anyplace to spread pop-lit ideas; will enter any arena. (As I demonstrated last weekend.) I want every person everywhere to read our poems and stories. I’ll take risks, ever aware of the risk-reward ratio; knowing that the potential reward is unlimited: making literary history. An immodest goal, requiring the discovery of amazing talent– but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that the status quo isn’t very capable or good and that things can be pushed to the limit. In business or art there’s no halfway. And so I set my goals very high. Even if that means falling on my face on occasion.