What a great priviledge it was for us to have the brilliant short story writer Tania Hershman as guest speaker and prize presenter at our 2012 awards ceremony, just over a week ago. Tania made a wonderful speech on why she loves short stories which will form part of the introduction to the new edition of Short Circuit, put together and edited by Vanessa Gebbie, and published next spring by Salt. Tania has kindly given us permission to share her words here:
Ladies and gentleman, it is such an honour to be invited to do this, here, in my hometown, and home of the Bristol Short Story Prize, now one of the biggest and most renowned international open short story competitions.
I have been thinking hard about what to say in these remarks that I haven’t said before – a million times – about short stories and why I love them. And then I realised that there was something very simple that I have never said.
Why do I love the short story?
Because it’s short.
I love the short story because you know when you start reading one, with absolute certainty, that in 15 minutes, 5 minutes or even less, the story will end. It will most definitely end. And if it is a great story it will end in such a way that will leave you satisfied although the situation of the story has not been hermetically sealed. And the story will linger in your mind for much longer than it took to read it.
The world we live in seems to me to be becoming ever more attracted to the notion of infinity. Online, you slay one email message and another pops up in its place. Your Twitter stream and Facebook feeds replenish every millisecond. The creators of television series seem would prefer that they never end, and it happens only when the show is cancelled. And films are so often sequels, remakes or even prequels.
If that wasn’t bad enough, back in the real world – it turns out our universe is expanding and may even be infinite, and that the idea once confined to science fiction of parallel universes in which there are versions of ourselves making slightly different decisions may not be so fantastical after all!
In all this infinity, in all this endlessness, the short story is an oasis, a small bubble of the finite, a tiny refuge of completeness. And isn’t it the knowledge that something is bounded, scarce, imminently ending, that makes it more precious? “While stocks last” and “limited number available” are surely the most exciting phrases, sending us rushing to get hold of one. So perhaps the short story is the “while stocks last” of the world of fiction – make the most of these characters, relish these words, this world, because it’s going to end.
A great short story exploits this, it is so good because of its limits, not despite them, a fact that seems not to be understood by many book reviewers who don’t often read short story collections. How amazing, they write, that this writer could do “all that” in such a small space! They don’t understand that an excellent short story is excellent precisely because of the small space, the boundaries, the limits, which the writer has chosen, has imposed on him or her self.
In this increasingly expansive and endless age, when texts and images bombard us constantly, great short stories remind us what is precious, what must be savoured. They remind us of the weight of each single word.
copyright Tania Hershman 2012