In the final decades of the twentieth century, the American short story enjoyed what many critics have called a renaissance of interest among both popular readers and professional critics. Stimulated partially by the popularity of such writers as Raymond Carver, who specialized in the short story, and the willingness of such editors as Gordon Lish, who encouraged short-story writers, a large number of short-story collections began to be published in the 1970’s. So many have been published in the last few decades that this survey must focus only on the most representative and influential short-story writers of the period.
Because surveys of the short story in other countries are included elsewhere in Critical Survey of Short Fiction, this survey will focus only on writers in America and England; and since the short story has never been a popular form in England, whereas it has enjoyed burgeoning success in America, the focus will primarily be on the American short story. Also, since the short story as an expression of cultural diversity in America is admirably covered in special surveys on the African American, Native American, Asian American, and Latino short story elsewhere in Critical Survey of Short Fiction, this essay will not cover those areas.
Non-Minimalist Storytellers: 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s
A number of important short-story writers in the last three decades of the century cannot be classified as part of the minimalist renaissance, either because their talent is inimical to that trend or because they self-consciously rejected minimalism for a more positive moral stance or a narrative voice that favors plenitude rather than parsimony. Writers such as Lee K. Abbott and Andre Dubus openly acknowledged their resistance to the minimalist aesthetic, while such writers as Grace Paley and Cynthia Ozick developed their own communal or lyrical style. Barry Hannah and Thom Jones created a “pull-out-all-the-stops” narrative voice that stretched the seams of the well-made short story, and T. Coraghessan Boyle, Stephen Millhauser, and Stephen Dixon developed their own version of the fantastic experimentalism that characterized the 1960’s.
The Short Story at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century
So many important short story collections have been published in the final years of the twentieth century that it is impossible to discuss them all. However, the following writers are among the most praised and the most promising.
The British Short Story: 1960-2000
It is a cultural fact that England, with its historical affiliation with the novel, has never been fertile soil for the short-story genre. However, although A. S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Graham Swift, Julian Barnes, and Ian McEwan are better known for their novels, their short stories in the past thirty years have made important contributions to the genre.