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Help Me Write: Short Stories

Author Kevin J. Hayes has been very busy writing American Literature: A Very Short Introduction, but he needs your help. Find out what you can do below. Check out his past posts here.

My previous blog took for its topic the genre of autobiography, which will be the subject of Chapter 3 in my forthcoming book, American Literature: A Very Short Introduction. This topic generated less comment than my earlier blogs, which surprised me somewhat. To me, autobiography is an exciting genre for critical exploration. I still welcome comments on autobiography, but for this new blog I am moving on to the subject of my fourth chapter: the short story. And I have come up with a question certain to generate some lively discussion: what are the five greatest short stories in the history of American literature?

Before anyone answers that question, perhaps I should establish one or two ground rules. Were I to answer it myself, the top five short stories in American literature might all be stories by Edgar Allan Poe. No doubt others feel the same way, too. But if all of you submit lists consisting solely of Poe stories, your responses will not really help me very much. Let’s make the following rule: only one story per author allowed in the list.

Top five and top ten lists have been around for a long time. In 1928, as I noted in The Cambridge Introduction to Herman Melville, Edward O’Brien made a list of the top fifteen short stories of all time, putting Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” at the top of the list and claiming that it was “the noblest short story in American literature.” Does O’Brien’s claim hold up eighty years later? The short story is a product of the nineteenth century, and many of the best writers of short fiction in American literature emerged then. But what impact did the twentieth century have on the development of short fiction? Have there been any good short stories in the twenty-first century? I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Recent Comments

  1. Rebecca

    I would nominate:
    People Like That Are the Only People Here/ Loorie Moore

    Love is Not a Pie/ Amy Bloom

    Not Quite Final/ Richard Bausch

    A Rose For Emily/William Faulkner

    The Waltz/ Dorothy Parker

    The Magic Barrel/ Bernard Malamud

    I’d nominate Alice Munro- but she’s Canadian.

  2. Cassie

    I’m actually not a big short story fan, which will probably get me crucified by the literary hordes. Oh well. That said, I love “Benito Cereno” and would definitely consider one of the greatest short stories written. I would also nominate “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

  3. J.D.

    Wow, this is a difficult question! There are several writers of short stories who I think rank among the masters but don’t have a single story that rates in the top five–Rick Bass and Barry Hannah are two of my favorites.

    In no particular order, let’s go with “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver; “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor; “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce; and “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe.

    If this list were expanded to ten, my next five would include “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathanial Hawthorne; “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson; “To Build a Fire” by Jack London; and “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury.

  4. […] 12, 2008 · No Comments This time, Kevin J. Hayes is looking for recommendations of great American short stories, particularly ones of 21st-century vintage. Nobody in the comments has gotten around to mentioning […]

  5. bdr

    Elkins “I Look Out for Ed Wolfe.”

  6. Dave

    My nominations:

    The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
    The Willows by Ambrose Bierce
    Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville
    The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

    And my number one, all-time favorite, perfect example of economy and elegance:

    Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share!

    Take care,


  7. Guy

    As a long time reader of short stories, I’ll throw my hat in my nomination of short stories that I’ve adored:

    Lorrie Moore: “You’re Ugly, Too”

    Flannery O’Connor: “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

    James Baldwin: “Sunny’s Blues”

    Mary Gaitskill: “A Romantic Weekend”

    Junot Diaz: “Negocios”

  8. gunter

    “The Chain,” Tobias Wolff.


    without a doubt,


  10. Maya

    I know this has been said but I’ll repeat it anyway.

    “Hills Like White Elephants”-Hemmingway

    Brilliant. Just completely brilliant.

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