Electric Lit’s 15 Best Short Story Collections of 2018

Staff and contributors recommend their favorite short fiction of the year

Short story collections sometimes get treated as training wheels for novels, as if novel-writing is the true endpoint of fiction and short stories are just the practice scales you do while honing your craft. At Electric Literature, we know better: a great short story is a specific thing, valuable in and of itself and not just as the prelude to a novel. Some of our picks this year are from people who have never written a longer work of fiction. Others are from people who have, but have never achieved the same level of indelible celebration as they have for shorter work. Let’s be real: Some stories are meant to be short, and sometimes short story collections allow greater opportunity for authors to be experimental, magical, and weird. Here, in all their short weird glory, are the story collections Electric Literature staff and contributors voted as the best of 2018. (Read to the bottom for our #1 pick!)

When you’re done, check out our picks for top nonfiction of the year.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

Motoya’s first collection to be translated into English is full of stories just slightly unmoored from reality. “It’s always a thrill to encounter a piece of literature that’s weird in a new way,” wrote Alexandra Kleeman in her recommendation for the title story in Recommended Reading. Read our interview with Asa Yoneda on translating the strangeness of The Lonesome Bodybuilder.

How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

Hopping back and forth from the island to America, Arthurs’s lively and beautiful stories examine love and family dynamics in Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora. Read Alexia Arthur’s reading list of queer Caribbean literature.

Days of Awe by A.M. Homes

This collection of powerful, barbed stories turns unlikable characters into an art form. Read our interview with A.M. Homes. Read a story from the collection here, with an introduction by Amanda Stern.

A Trip to Disneyland in Search of the Root of Sadness

Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker

“People look past black women all the time, as though we’re invisible” wrote Bridgett M. Davis, recommending one of the stories from this collection. “What is so extraordinary about Camille Acker’s compelling debut Training School For Negro Girls is that she demands that we truly see these characters.”

Awayland by Ramona Ausubel

The poignant, fantastical stories in this collection feature a cast of characters including a Cyclops, a mermaid, animal mummies, and astronauts. Read our interview with Ramona Ausubel about what bodies do in secret and read a short story from the collection here, introduced by Manuel Gonzales.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

Johnson’s first short story collection since the seminal Jesus’ Son was already in the works when the author died in 2017. Read Matt Bell’s elegy for Denis Johnson.

Sweet & Low by Nick White

As a queer Southerner, who wrote about his experience at conversion camp in his debut novel, White both respects and sees right through the tropes of Southern fiction. Read an interview with Nick White. Read a story from the collection here, with an introduction by Alissa Nutting.

Certain American States by Catherine Lacey

Every story from this book, wrote Kathleen Alcott in her introduction for Recommended Reading, “is a whole childhood of feeling, and like any childhood, we feel lucky after to have emerged intact.”

Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

Lazarin’s crystalline stories focus on women and girls navigating the tensions between their desires and their cultural constraints. Read one of the short stories here, introduced by Julie Buntin.

Some Trick by Helen deWitt

Sheila Heti isn’t sure you’re smart enough to read Helen deWitt. “We pick up books like Helen’s to read, us intellectuals in the culture industry, but learn nothing from her pages,” she writes while recommending a story from Some Trick. Prove her wrong.

Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg

In addition to having one of the best titles going (we dare you not to mentally sing “… and my duck is your duck, our duck is here to stay”), this collection of long short stories is witty, wise, and weird. Before you read the title story, published in Recommended Reading in 2013, find out what Deborah Eisenberg told us about how short story collections should be read.

Image result for heads of the colored people

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

This stunning debut collection offers a perspective on black life that acknowledges, but does not require or rest on, suffering and grief. Read our interview with Nafissa Thompson-Spires about writing stories that feel authentic to her life.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

Brinkley’s stories are tender, familiar, clear-eyed portraits of black manhood and boyhood in America. Jennifer Baker caught up with Jamel Brinkley about representing people he knows and avoiding the white gaze.

Florida by Lauren Groff

Groff didn’t just help lay the foundation for our Read More Women series this year. She also produced this weird and wonderful collection of stories about the eponymous state. We asked Lauren Groff about ugly feelings, climate change, and using dread to create effective fiction.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

This collection of darkly satirical stories about race and consumerism is devastating, hilarious, and absolutely indelible—and it’s only his debut. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 honorees for 2018, is a rising star. Mark his name—and read our interview.

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