I had no specific objectives at the outset: just wanted to post an excerpt from a different story — any story — on each day in May. My only real guideline was: don’t feature any author’s work more than once. Over time, though, some observations emerged:
I can’t remember the exact timing, but back around the beginning of the month I first heard about the online kerfuffle — the male Wikipedia editor, who was systematically working his way through the alphabetic list of “American authors” and moving any who happened to be women out of that general category and into the more specific “American female authors” category. (Not simply ensuring they were in both, mind you.)* I’m not generally quota-driven in such matters, but this whole thing appalled me. While brainstorming the Story Up My Sleeve selections, within a couple of days I decided I would alternate male-female authors throughout the month. I more or less stuck to this. (Final tally, not counting the Midweek Music Breaks: fourteen stories by men, thirteen by women.) But then I ran up against…
Most of the stories this month, obviously, were in prose form. But it occurred to me early on that I might easily interweave the Midweek Music Break series with the short-story one. So on May 8 through May 29, the Wednesday posts featured story songs. But this tripped me up gender-wise; my story list at that point had just featured Carson McCullers and was about to do Damon Knight, and my first song selection was Gordon Lightfoot… Totally confused at trying to work out the permutations, I decided to more or less relax when it came to the music. (For the record, it featured two songs by men; an “anthology” of songs sung by a musical-film cast of women; and a duet sung by a woman and a man.)
Something that surprised me: I probably could have done nothing but science-fiction stories all month. I kept thinking of other favorite SF (and fantasy) tales I wanted to include; what’s funny about this is that I haven’t read SF/F stories regularly for years. Finally, I just had to force myself to be disciplined. (For what it’s worth, stories from the American South presented me with the same dilemma — and solution. Hence, no Faulkner.) I also decided to mix things up some on this score, too, although literary/classic stories generally predominated.
In a tweet she posted after Friday’s entry, Jessica Francis Kane hinted that this Story Up My Sleeve project might become an annual one, undertaken by more than one individual (albeit on just one day in May, not throughout the entire month). I can’t offer an opinion about that. But I will say that doing it this way once certainly felt right to me. Coming up with roughly 30 stories felt difficult at first; obviously, or so I told myself, I’d bitten off too ambitious a chunk to chew, let alone swallow. By mid-month, though, I cringed every time I realized I’d run out of May before I ran out of stories.
Poetry and novels get all the glamour and red-carpet walks; if we’re not paying attention, short stories can feel almost like afterthoughts — like conjunctions, prepositions, and other function words to the rest of literature’s complete sentences. A claim like “I’m about halfway through my next novel” fairly roars in people’s imaginations; saying you’re far through your next short story just squeaks.
But y’know, short stories are a wonderful form. (Even the conventional novel implicitly acknowledges as much: what’s a chapter, really, if not a short story?) If you seek breadth of reading — diversity of voice, style, and theme — you could do far worse than starting with an anthology… whether lifted from a bookshelf, or pulled from your sleeve.
*I did read this guy’s account of his reasoning, and even sympathized and agreed with it on some levels; when doing research, it generally does help me to start with a more specific category (“beetles,” say, vs. “insects”), and drill down from there. But I can’t imagine requiring others to do so. Just for starters, non-native speakers of a given language may not know whether a given name says to start in the women’s list, or the men’s. (I myself can never remember without hesitation that Chinua Achebe was a man, or that Michiko Kakutani is a woman.) You might as well categorize authors by hair color or shoe size. And why not drill down even further? If you know that Faulkner was left-handed (no, I have no idea) and had brown hair, why label him simply as a male author? Why not move him into the list of southpaw brown-haired male authors from Mississippi, and leave the generalists to stumble around in the dark?