Parisian Literary Salon

creating community through reading and discussing literature

Contemporary Short Stories

Each week we will look at two short stories, perhaps in reflection of each other, perhaps using one for close analysis and the other to simply respond to by assessing the pleasure of the read. The list includes James Baldwin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Faulkner, Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Paul Bowles and Nadine Gordimer and as many others as we can squeeze in. I will provide the specific list of works before the opening session, if you need a photocopy I will prepare this for our first meeting.

This Salon will provide ideas about how to enter the short story, and find your footing, how to use the tools provided by the writer to immerse yourself in this precise and complete world. We will look carefully at the creation of voice, tone, perspective and setting in the micro world of short fiction. Participants will put the study to practice by developing a short work of fiction to be presented at the final meeting.

Sonny’s Blues‘ by James Baldwin
Set in racially-divided Harlem in the 1950s, Baldwin’s long short story tells of a lost brother, mean streets, inheritance, nobility and cowardice, and ultimately of the transcendence available in art. This piece- with its riffs, swoops and echoes comes as close as almost any text I have read to the experience of musicality in writing (sits alongside Invisible Man for those who were there…).

The Yellow Wallpaper‘ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Often disappears into the category of a feminist work, this subversive first person narration gives a glimpse to the dangers of an artistic temperament smothered by care- loving, oppressive care. I will provide readers with notes on the world of late 19th ct. women, particularly in regards to medically care and psychiatric treatment. This is a haunting and riveting read.

A Distant Episode‘ by Paul Bowles with ‘The Liar‘ by Tobias Wolff
Warning: Distant Episode is disturbing (but so much of great literature is….). Bowles’ tragic-comic tale of a language professor kidnapped by the very people he sought to study provides some deep questions on how we position our selves to those we attempt to explore…and the dangers of both knowledge and ignorance. Liar also offers a protagonist caught in his own world, using language to separate and shield himself from those he loves- and fears.

The Dead‘ by James Joyce with ‘Cathedral‘ by Raymond Carver
For those planning on moving into Joyce’s world next year, we might as well start now. Though this is not exactly a summer read, Joyce’s incredible use of language and image will bring us into snow-filled, turn of the century Dublin- to glimpse the vast interior world of the characters he peels open for our understanding. Carver does his own peeling- stylistically eons apart, I thought these two voices in contrast might yield some unusual insights.