AWP 2014: Packed House for Flash Fiction Fans

March 1, 2014 § 3 Comments


The Panelists

A guest blog on the Brevity Reading that was not a Brevity reading by Denise Low

“Brevity is huge.” “Micropiece Theatre.” “Microscopic fiction.” “Flash.” These are some of the ways panelists at the Brevity Reading, AWP 2014, described their form. Moderator Jane Ciabattari defined the scope of the shortest fiction genre: “Stories told in under 1000 words”

She opened with a nod to the journal Brevity: “I want to plug Brevity, edited by Dinty W. Moore. The word ‘Brevity’ has become so associated with Dinty’s magazine that most AWP people consider the two synonymous. As Dinty puts it, ‘I didn’t invent the word Brevity, but I guess it is becoming a brand.’” This AWP reading was brief fiction, not writers sponsored by the magazine.

Flash fiction can “flare” for only six words, like this story told in six words by Sherman Alexie, published in Narrative magazine”

The Human Comedy

My ex-wife.
My brother.
They eloped.

Flash fiction tests the limits of how few words can be used to create a narrative.

Ciabattari went on to describe how “Flash is perfect for the digital age, for reading on phones, at night, on the train. It is perfect for stories published by New World Writing, formerly known as Blip, and by Electric Literatures.” Flash slips comfortably into the 140 character limit of Twitter.

The panelists were skilled practitioners: Ciabattari herself (my sister, full disclosure here), Bobbie Ann Mason, Meg Pokrass, Pamela Painter, and Grant Faulkner. Each read works from 100 words (Ciabattari and Faulkner) to a slightly longer duet-flash “Tweeting War and Peace” co-authored by Mason and Pokrass. The story’s conflict was how to reduce the Tolstoy epic for digital age paraphernalia and attention spans. The authors declared it could be done in “ten million micro-tweets” and “repackaged” in “bundles.” This was a tour de force that had the audience roaring.

My “take-away” (to use a techno-term) was: flash fiction, tales told in brief, is a flourishing, emerging form. The topic drew a packed room.

This panel had one of the best Q & A sessions, as passionate practitioners shared publishing opportunities as well as variant flash genre options. Journals that feature flash fiction include, 100Word Story, Flash Fiction Forum, Electric Literature, PEN/Guernica—these all have weekly flash online. Smokelong Quarterly, Flash Fiction Chronicles, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Metagen, and Camroc are other venues.

Form affects content. Just as the first recordings of Robert Johnson’s blues changed a long, improvisational form to the length of a wax cylinder, so smart phones are changing literature. This panel demonstrated how the form can still create literary epiphanies.

Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-2009, has been writing, reviewing, editing and publishing literary and scholarly articles for 30 years. She is the author of ten collections of poetry and six books of essays, including Natural Theologies from The Backwaters Press 2011, and a biography of Langston Hughes (co-authored with Thomas Pecore Weso).

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