The Best American Short Stories 2001by Barbara Kingsolver (Editor), Rick Bass (Read by), Ricky Moody (Read by), Elizabeth Graver (Read by)
Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred and twenty outstanding works. That selection is pared down to the twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind.
A wonderfully diverse collection, this year's Best American Short Stories travels from Hollywood to Hong Kong, from the Jersey shore to Wales, considering the biggest issues: love, war, health, success. Edited by author Barbara Kingsolver, The Best American Short Stories 2001 includes selections by Rick Moody, Ha Jin, Alice Munro, John Updike, and others. Highlighting exciting new voices as well as established masters of the form, this year's collection is a testament to the good health of contemporary short fiction in this country.
Read an Excerpt
ForewordIN THE 1942 VOLUME of The Best American Short Stories, the anthology's new annual editor, Martha Foley, attempted to define the form. "A good short story," she wrote, "is a story which is not too long and which gives the reader the feeling he has undergone a memorable experience." Over the past eleven years, during my own tenure as annual editor of this eighty-six-year-old series, I've run across numerous other writers' attempts to come up with some sort of standard by which to measure the short story. Few have managed to add much to Ms. Foley's democratic and rather obvious criteria. At symposiums and writers' conferences, I've learned to duck and weave around the inevitable question "What do you look for in a short story?" I wish I knew! Heart? Soul? Truth? Voice? Integrity of intention and skill in execution? The answer is all of the above, and none of the above. For I don't really "look" for anything; when a story works, I know it in my gut, not in my head, and only then after laughing, after brushing away a tear, after taking a moment to catch my breath and return to the here and now do I set about analyzing the successes and failures of a writer's effort. It would certainly be nice to have a checklist, a foolproof grading system, a tally sheet of pluses and minuses. But reading is a subjective activity, even for those of us who are fortunate enough to read for a living. We editors may read more pages than the average American, and we may read faster, but when it comes right down to it, I believe we all read for the same reason: in order to test our own knowledge of life and to enlarge on it. Out of the three thousand or so short stories I read in any given year, I may file two hundred away. And I always marvel at how precious this stash of chosen fiction seems to me; these are the stories that, for one reason or another, exerted some kind of hold on the priorities of my heart. Even now, I have boxes of old stories, going back a decade and more, stacked up in the basement; I've saved every file card I've filled out since 1990 as well a treasure trove of stories, a king's ransom of human wisdom caught and held on those hundreds of moldering pages. When it comes to cleaning closets, I'm ruthless. But those stories . . . well, how could I throw them away? Who knows when a particular bit of fiction will prove useful? Someday, I think, someone will need that story about the emotional roller coaster of new motherhood; or this one, which reminds us what sixteen years old really feels like; or that one, which could help a friend prepare for death . . . Toward year's end, I sift through the current piles and begin to ship batches of tales off to the guest editor, always wondering whether he or she will share my tastes and predilections and curious to know whether the narrative voice that whispered so urgently in my ear will speak with as much power to another. Truth be told, it is an anxious time. Just as, when I was a teenager, I wanted my parents to agree that my boyfriend was indeed Prince Charming, I can't help but hope that the guest editor will share my passion for the year's collection of short story suitors. I have no clue about Barbara Kingsolver's taste in men, but I discovered right away that she and I could fall in love with the same short stories. And when her introduction to this volume came spooling through my fax machine, I stood there reading it page by page, nodding in agreement with her discoveries and full of gratitude for the pickiness (her word) and devotion she brought to this task of reading, judging, and finally choosing. And then, as the next-to-last page emerged into my waiting hands, I saw it: a new definition for the short story, at last. To Martha Foley's sixty-year-old criteria we can now add Barbara Kingsolver's useful dictum: "A good short story cannot simply be Lit Lite, but the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces." Writers take heed! In choosing this year's collection of The Best American Short Stories, Kingsolver has done writers and readers a great service, for her own love for the form and her exacting standards have resulted in a volume that is as varied in subject matter, style, voice, and intent as even the most eclectic reader could wish for. Collectively, these stories hum with the energy of twenty disparate voices raised under one roof. They are a testament to our contemporary writers' vigorous engagement with the world and to the robust good health of American short fiction. Some years ago, John Updike revealed, "Writing fiction, as those of us who do it know, is, beneath the anxious travail of it, a bliss, a healing, an elicitation of order from disorder, a praise of what is, a salvaging of otherwise overlookable truths from the ruthless sweep of generalization, a beating of daily dross into something shimmering and absolute." Mr. Updike, who made his first appearance in The Best American Short Stories in 1959, returns this year for the twelfth time as a contributor. (He also served as guest editor in 1984 and coedited The Best American Short Stories of the Century, published in 1999.) He is the only writer in the history of the series to appear in these pages for six consecutive decades an achievement that we feel is worth noting. May he continue to beat the daily dross into such shimmering and absolute works as "Personal Archeology," which begins on page 326. The stories chosen for this anthology were originally published between January 2000 and January 2001. The qualifications for selection are (1) original publication in nationally distributed American or Canadian periodicals; (2) publication in English by writers who are American or Canadian, or who have made the United States or Canada their home; (3) original publication as short stories (excerpts of novels are not knowingly considered). A list of magazines consulted for this volume appears at the back of the book.
Meet the Author
RICK BASS’s fiction has received O. Henry Awards, numerous Pushcart Prizes, awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. Most recently, his memoir Why I Came West was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Peter Orner is the 2002-2003 winner of the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His story collection, Esther Stories, was a New York Times Notable Book, a Finalist for the Pen/Hemingway Award, and winner of the Samuel Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction. Orner holds both an MFA from the University of Iowa and a degree in law. His work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize Anthology and has appeared in a number of national publications, including The Atlantic Monthly and The Paris Review. Orner currently lives in San Francisco and teaches at San Francisco State University.
- Date of Birth:
- April 8, 1955
- Place of Birth:
- Annapolis, Maryland
- B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981
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