Short StoriesLinks, study materials, and teaching materials about short stories in English
The resources below are examples of the materials I use to introduce my students to a wide variety of short stories and help them learn how to process style and meaning. As a tutor who generally only has an hour a week to work with each student, I enjoy discussing short stories because they provide an opportunity to go into greater analytical depth than we can usually go into with longer works. We can also cover a broader range of authors, styles, and subject matter by reading several short stories instead of one novel.
See the Literature for Younger Readers page for short stories appropriate for middle school students.
Short Story Anthologies
The collections below are some of my favorites, both to draw on as a teacher and to read for pleasure.
The Oxford Book of American Short Stories: Compiled by writer Joyce Carol Oates, this anthology is distinguished by the uniqueness of some of its selections; Oates wanted to avoid choosing the same well-known stories that have become standard choices for such anthologies.
The Story and Its Writer: This voluminous text, which has been through a number of editions over the years, was used in one of my college English courses and introduced me to some of my favorite short stories. It also contains numerous critical commentaries on stories and the process of writing stories, many of them by writers discussing their own included works. New physical copies of any edition are quite expensive, but an abridged “compact” edition of this book is available for Kindle here.
The Art of the Short Story: Like The Story and Its Writer, but on a somewhat smaller (though still substantial and far cheaper) scale, this book provides critical context and the authors’ own insights on writing to go with stories by 52 acclaimed writers.
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: This is another text I was introduced to in college by a fascinating lecturer who helped me appreciate the subtleties of Hemingway’s style. Though his writing certainly has its limitations, these masterfully crafted stories yield rich rewards to those willing to spend time reading thoughtfully and digging beneath the surface.
Read All About It: An anthology of short stories, novel excerpts, poems, and newspaper stories for younger students (late elementary and middle school) that introduces them to important writers and works to encourage them to do their own further reading. See the Literature for Younger Readers page for more materials appropriate for that age group.
Short Story Writing
The books above all contain a wealth of insights and lessons for those interested in writing short stories, but two highly rated books that teach the craft and process of writing short stories from a practical point of view are Joe Bunting’s Let’s Write a Short Story: How to Write and Submit a Short Story and Nancy Sakaduski’s How to Write Winning Short Stories, the latter of which is available for free with Kindle Unlimited as of this writing. Kurt Vonnegut also offers simple, practical advice with his Eight Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story.
Selected Short Stories by Author
“All Summer in a Day,” a brief exploration of the costs and psychological consequences of living on an alien planet, has been included in numerous collections since its first publication in 1954, including The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology. As of this writing, the text can be found online free of charge here (link to PDF file) and here.
“Visiting Hours” is a dark but subtlely told story about the bond that forms between siblings with an abusive father and about the coping mechanisms that they adopt to deal with a situation they can’t escape. The text of the story can be found on the Harper’s Magazine website (behind a paywall) or in the collection The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003.
“The Curse,” an intense short story about the psychological aftermath of witnessing a rape, is included in Dubus’s own Selected Stories (the Kindle version of which is quite inexpensive) as well as The Story and Its Writer. It poses the difficult question “How does one live with oneself?”
Hemingway’s stories are most famous for the simple yet powerful style he pioneered, often referred to as an “elliptical style” because of the omission of information that a more traditional writer would convey to the reader directly. “The Killers” is an outstanding example of his use of this style to create a tense, haunting story out of a scene in which no violence actually occurs. As of this writing, the text of the story is available here (link to PDF).
“A Family Supper” explores the tense relationships within a Japanese family when the surviving members are reunited after a series of difficulties and tragedies. Though its subject matter is intense, Ishiguro presents it in his typically artful, understated style. As of this writing, the text of the story can be found here (link to PDF).
“Clay,” from Dubliners, is a moving character study of the routine life of an unmarried woman in early twentieth-century Ireland. “The Dead” is a longer story from the same collection that, among other things, meditates on how memories of the dead continue to have power over us long after they are gone. Both stories are haunting and thought-provoking in their subversion of conventional expectations about short stories; they don’t offer the easy sense of closure and completeness that many short stories do.
“Clay” Study Questions (PDF)
“Brokeback Mountain” is best known to the general public as a film that broke boundaries for mainstream Hollywood products, but it was based on a critically acclaimed story that won the 1998 National Magazine Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In addition to its political and social significance, it is a timeless and universal story of the cost of forbidden love. The text of the story can be found here on the website of the New Yorker, the magazine that originally published it.
Best known for the novel The Catcher in the Rye, the legendarily reclusive writer J.D. Salinger also wrote a number of critically acclaimed short stories. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” contains elements seen also in Catcher: a troubled protagonist with a bleak outlook, a sense of the corrupting effect of the adult world on children, and a spare style influenced by Ernest Hemingway. As of this writing, the text of Nine Stories, including “Bananafish,” is available for download here (link to PDF).
“Two Kinds,” about the tension between a mother’s expectations and her daughter’s conflicting needs and desires, is an excerpt from Amy Tan’s popular novel The Joy Luck Club that is often taught as a self-contained story. It is featured in The Story and Its Writer, among other collections. As of this writing, the text of the story can be found online free of charge here (link to PDF file).
“The Egg,” by the author of The Martian, is a short and thought-provoking dialogue about the nature of existence. It’s a good story to read aloud to initiate discussion. It was published by Weir on his website, and the text is available here.