Massachusetts author Anne Sanow is new to the Writers’ Program, but brings with her eight years of teaching experience, several Pushcart Prize nominations, and a Drue Heinz Literature Prize for her 2009 story collection Triple Time. We’re excited to have her with us, and this winter she’ll be teaching a new online course, Writing the Long Story: Intermediate Workshop. We chatted, via cyberspace, about the course, writing, and her favorite new fiction.
Writers’ Program: For students who may be unaware, what exactly is a “long short story”? What do you see as the potential of this medium, and what do you hope students will take away from the class?
Anne Sanow: Long stories are those that resist the traditional economy of what we think a “short” story might be. They might have a large cast of characters, for example; perhaps there’s a shift in point of view; conversations between characters go on for a longer time than expected; tangents occur in the narrative; they cover a large span of time. Yet these are stories and not novels. Wrongly, I think, writers who write long are often seen as traditionalists—when in fact they’re really pushing the idea of what a “short story” can accomplish.
Length itself is an arbitrary thing, of course; I’m defining “long” as over 7,000 words or 25 pages, but something that stops short of a novella-length piece. There are so many writers these days who seem to be resisting the way the world pressures us into short attention spans and multitasking; writers like Alice Munro, Yiyun Li, Anthony Doerr, Jhumpa Lahiri, and many more are crafting long, textured, detailed stories that allow for a glorious kind of immersion. The potential of learning how to write long is that you discover ways of offering that resonance for the reader; you also learn a good deal about time, momentum, and structure. And writing long doesn’t just mean that you go on and on and on, aimlessly—you have to take control. I hope that students discover that by working with the elements of fiction in a longer form, they learn to experiment and ultimately, gain a lot of authority over their work.
WP: When did you start writing, and what role does it play in your life? What projects are you working on at the moment?
AS: I’ve really been writing all my life: getting stories and characters on the page was one of my first impulses. And I love reading so much that I’m constantly inspired by what others do as well. Being a writer is the way I define myself: it’s about the way I see and interpret. I do also tend to think in terms of large projects, even when working on stories. Right now I’m working on a novel set partly in the film industry in Berlin during WWII.
WP: Who are your favorite short story authors? Have you read anything lately that has really jumped out at you?
AS: I have so many favorites—in addition to those I mentioned above, others I’m including on the syllabus such as Mary Swan, Edward P. Jones, Deborah Eisenberg. Debut collections I’ve loved from the past couple of years include those by Lydia Peelle, Dylan Landis, and Paul Yoon. Recently the novels I’ve read are in translation from points northern: German writer Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation was superb, as was Per Petterson’s To Siberia (read it if you loved Out Stealing Horses). And I plan to tuck in to Jaimy Gordon’s novel Lord of Misrule, which just won the National Book Award, and I can’t wait.
Click here for information about Writing the Long Story: Intermediate Workshop, or to learn more about Anne, please visit her instructor page.
Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Online) and Events. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.