The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 2, No. 3

Letter to the Reader

by Contributing Editors

In recent times it hasn't been easy to avoid the peculiar phenomenon of "the attention span." Only God and the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary know for sure where this odd phrase comes from, but it's absolutely the shortening of same that has, according to philosophers and cocktail wits, accounted for a) all mediocre movies, b) the latest death of the novel, c) plunging necklines, and d) your answer here.
      The uncharitable might regard a short-fiction magazine as symptomatic of an attention-deficit culture, because short fiction tends to be, frankly, short. But as so often happens, the uncharitable would be wide of the mark. For us, the notion of a "short" fiction form, while widely embraced, is not such a happy invention since it immediately implies an absence of length rather than the presence of economy, which is really much closer to the truth.
      At Zoetrope: All-Story, we like to think of these stories as beautiful things that also happen to be ephemeral, in the best sense--things that leave you wanting more, like cool breezes on hot days or falling in love on the subway. Sometimes those things that are most fleeting are also the most indelible.
      We've been overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of commitment to this form on the part of the hundreds of writers whose work we've been privileged to see. We've been reduced to tears, we've laughed, we've read stories again and again, and we've called each other nasty names arguing over them--which, incidentally, is also our humble wish for you the reader, but without the nasty names part.
      The truth is, this editorial board has no taste. But no group can have a single taste apart from the many divergent preferences of its membership, preferences that in our case diverge more rather than less. If there's ever a piece we uniformly agree on, and there have been only a few, it's always one of those works that has--through cunning, comedy, suffering, insight, craft, violence, or sheer truth--managed to make itself felt as Life. We think we're not alone in revering this, and in setting this as the paramount goal for the fiction we read.
      To return to this plague of "short attention spans," it seems not really the duration but the quality of attention that finally has any meaning. The Gettysburg Address, after all, only needed 267 words to achieve immortality. And as Marcel Proust, whose work is famous for requiring a long attention span, once wrote, we have "at our disposal different degrees of attention, among which it rests precisely with the artist himself to arouse the highest."
      With that said, we'll hedge our bets and keep this short.

The Contributing Editors