The Kugelmass Episode

by Woody Allen

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Critical Overview

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‘‘The Kugelmass Episode’’ is generally acknowledged to be a classic short story and one of the finest pieces in Allen’s relatively small output of prose fiction. It was well received critically when it first appeared in The New Yorker in 1977, evidenced by it being short-listed for and then winning the first prize in the following year’s O. Henry awards, the annual prizes given to short stories of exceptional merit. However, partly because of Allen’s enormous popularity and success as a filmmaker, ‘‘The Kugelmass Episode’’ and his other prose works have received almost no sustained critical or scholarly attention. The short story is routinely cited by critics from all disciplines as a ‘‘classic’’ and a brilliantly funny example of a fantasy in which art and life intersect and frequently appears on college reading lists for modern and supernatural fiction and, ironically, Freshman English. Two short critical pieces on the story appeared in 1988 and 1992 issues of the Explicator discussing the work’s Jewish references and relationship to reader-response theory and criticism. But otherwise, most critical commentary on Allen’s work tends to focus on his films and, to a lesser extent, his plays. Nonetheless, ‘‘The Kugelmass Episode’’ continues to be read, being frequently anthologized in collections of American short stories, humor, and Jewish writing, and in 2003 was included in print and audio versions of an anthology of stories from The New Yorker. Side Effects, Allen’s third prose collection in which the story was published in 1980, also continues to be in print, ensuring that the piece enjoys wide readership.

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Essays and Criticism