Narratives: The Short Story

“One of the greatest functions of art is to help us imagine what it is to be like not ourselves, what it is like to be someone or something else, what it is like to live in another skin, what it is like to live in another body, and in that sense to surpass ourselves, to go out beyond ourselves.”

–Adrienne Rich

At its most basic, this course is designed to explore the influence and importance of storytelling, taking as its premise the idea that the art of storytelling extends beyond simple social behavior to instead create a mode of thoughtfully and intellectually engaging society and components of identity and culture. As such, students will read a variety of short stories and essays from both classic and contemporary writersincluding Tobias Wolff, Amy Hempel, Tim O’Brien, Rick Bass, Jamaica Kincaid, Sandra Cisneros, Robert Olmstead, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson, Kevin Moffett, and Wells Tower, among othersand together, we’ll discuss the ways in which their authors employ literary elements to evidence these historical, cultural, and social issues in an efficient and artful manner. In particular, we’ll ask of each text the following: how does the short story or essay transcend place and time to take on universal meaning, and what literary elements help shape it and, more importantly, help create meaning from art? In short: we’ll be trying to figure out how, exactly, short texts function and why, but it is my hope, more than anything, that you’ll use this class as an opportunity to consider, fight, and question the world around you.