Short Prose: The Crossroads of Genre

12 May

In 1990 I taught a course in short prose writing. I just came across the course description (a dot-matrix printout!). This was way before the term “flash fiction” gained currency.

While primarily a writing workshop, this class will also involve considerable study of significant works in short prose forms throughout history. A major premise of this class is that such terms as “prose poem” and “short-short story” are limiting and misleading, and that short prose can be seen as a distinct genre (rather than a sub-genre of poetry or fiction) with its own set of traditions, but nonetheless a territory where other genres–verse, fiction, essay, anecdote and aphorism, to name but a few–can meet and fraternize. Among the writers and works discussed will be Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen, the symbolist and surrealist short prose traditions, several early Japanese works (The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and Essays in Idleness of Kenko), the parables and shorter fictions of Kafka and Borges, Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Beckett’s Texts for Nothing, Cortazar’s Cronopios and Famas, Memory of Fire–Eduardo Galeano’s lyrical history of the Americas, and a healthy selection of work by contemporary U.S. practitioners (Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, M. Kasper, Roberta Allen and others). Participants will write and present short prose works in response to a group of fairly open assignments related to the readings. An emphasis will be on exploring varied possibilities of short prose, both in individual pieces and in sequences (the special properties of the “sequence” will be addressed in depth).

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