I want to recommend four classic short stories I have recently read or listened to that, though written long ago, capture, in their own particular and peculiar way, “The lyric essence of the moment,” a phrase taken from…
Willa Cather’s short story “A Death in the Desert” which I listened to this morning on The Classic Tales Podcast. “Oh, let me die in Harlem,” laments Katherine Gaylord who is wasting away in Cheyenne. The story was published in Scribner’s Magazine in January 1903. Willa Cather is one of my all time favorite writers.
Her novel Death Comes for The Archbishop is perfection itself, and one of the novels I read regularly for inspiration. I wrote about The Selected Letters of Willa Cather here.
Story # 2 is “Transformation” by Mary Shelley which I listened to last week also on The Classic Tales Podcast. It was first published in 1831 by The Keepsake and is a masterclass in storytelling. Mary Shelley along with Muriel Spark are great mentors for me and Muriel Spark’s first book was a biography of Mary Shelley which I wrote about here.
Story # 3 is “The Foster Portfolio” written in 1968 by Kurt Vonnegut read by Levar Burton. Kurt Vonnegut was one of my earliest mentors and still today I look at his “8 Rules for Writing” all the time, as well as this picture of him which I love:
“The Foster Portfolio” was made into a short film which won all sorts of recognition on the festival circuit.
And finally, there is a big buzz about E.M. Forester who foresaw the essence of our moment in his short story “The Machine Stops” published in 1909 in The Oxford and Cambridge Review. The Convivial Society has written about it here and has links to the print and audio versions of the story. Oliver Sacks wrote eloquently, affectingly about the short story in his posthumously published essay here.