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Experience Fulfillment with Short Stories

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I don’t remember when I started, but I have the deepest love and appreciation of African-American short stories. I remember when I first picked up Black Voices, compiled by Abraham Chapman in 1968. There was a story in it that I remember to this day, “Summer Tragedy”. An elderly couple took a drive. They were in their 80’s, they were still in love. They were holding hands. They were losing their home, their children had gone, and all they had was each other. So, they drove off of a bridge. Together. In death as in life.


I read that story, written in the 1931 by Arna Bontemps, one of the master writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and I shook with feeling, knowing that its relevance hadn’t ended, 30 years, 90 years later. And I was hungry for more. I devoured that book, read it many times.


And realized, when I was in my 40’s, that I might not be the only one hungry for stories. So, I taught a course, African-American Short Stories, at a community college in Greensboro, NC. When we didn’t get enough takers, I taught in a student’s home. And we sat around, guzzling the juice out of those stories, as we discussed their beauty and flow.


I used stories from Black Voices, from Langston Hughes’ Best Short Stories by Black Writers 1899-1967 AND Gloria Naylor’s Children of the Night, Best Stories, 1967 to present (1994). I used  Clarence Major’s Calling the Wind and Alain Locke’s The New Negro. We read Langston Hughes, Rudolph Fisher, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. duBois,  Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman, Samuel Delaney, James Baldwin. We read the masters of the art of the short story. And it enriched our lives.


Twenty years later, I pulled together a collection of my own, Afro-Bougie Blues: A Collection of Short Fiction, in which I highlighted the troubles that money can’t solve. Incarceration, alcoholism, abortion, obesity, adolescence, infidelity. And in thinking back, I find myself hoping to capture the depth of stories like “Summer Tragedy”.  Stories that are timeless, stories that can hurt, or heal.  There is richness in short stories, variety of substance, short bursts of marvel and humanity. If you’ve never read a short story, try it out. If you read a good one, it should leave you satisfied and hungry, appeased and intrigued, transported and at home. Percival Everett, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Nnedi Okorafor, Walter Mosley, James McBride, and Stephanie Powell Watts are all bringing the short story into the 21st century. Take a peek at our work and see if it doesn’t bring you to a depth of being that epitomizes literary fiction.

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