1. The readerly and writerly crowd at Fort Greene’s Greenlight Bookstore.
Raymond Carver once said “That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.” As a writer whose fame came primarily from short stories, it came as little surprise that Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance for Me?” was included in The Paris Review’s anthology Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents The Art of the Short Story. On October 4 at Greenlight Bookstore, Paris Review and anthology editor Lorin Stein sat down with Donald Antrim (The Hundred Brothers) and David Means (The Spot, The Secret Goldfish), both of whom contributed introductions to two different pieces. The three-man panel quickly turned into a conversation about not only the craft of the short story, but the current state of the medium in literature and pop culture.
1. Short Story Triad Donald Antrim, David Means, and Lorin Stein. 2. Author Donald Antrim.
Object Lessons is a collection of 20 stories from the Paris Review’s archive. But more importantly, the anthology asked contemporary writers to share their favorite story from the prestigious magazine, introducing each piece with their personal explanation of why their choice works as a short story. While it was clear that the pair had differences in style and process (Means confessed he writes every story to its end and then returns) both writers agreed that a good short story gets down to the humane.
“A great novel or story is a work of art and a lifetime is too short a time to do more than make a dent in what amounts, by now, to very complex and serious art forms,” said Antrim.
1. The Paris Review’s Lorin Stein.
While both authors agreed that the short story became a poetic medium after movies and television became more dominant over magazines, Means also compared short stories to pop songs, using Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” as an example. “Each has an example. You want to hear it again and a good story does the same.”
As to whether a writer can ever stop learning about form or humanity as a whole, Antrim’s opinion on the subject is one that should be universal among serious contemporary writers: “Writing it seems to me, is much too large an undertaking to allow for imagining, as it were, a place, or a point, at which one might feel some kind of ultimate accomplishment. I don’t have much confidence in the idea that learning ever does stop, or ever should.”
Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents The Art of the Short Story is currently available in all major and local bookstores.
—Eric Nelson is a fiction writer and curator living in Ridgewood, Queens. He writes a weekly column for Bushwick Nation called “From the Wood to the Wick.”