The text will be 100 Years of the Best American Stories,
edited by Lorrie Moore and published in 2015. We will read stories by Mary Ladd Gavell, Raymond Carver, Sherman Alexie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, ZZ Packer, Alice Munro, and Lauren Groff, each of whom creates powerful and memorable worlds in just a few pages. We'll begin the course with a remarkable but little-known story called The Rotifer
, by Mary Ladd Gavell. It was the only story Gavell published in her lifetime, and a book club friend of mine called it “a Swiss timepiece”, perfectly constructed.
The course will be run like a Waring Humanities class: i.e., we'll read the text beforehand, I’ll prepare handout(s) to illuminate the story (school!), and then ask “big” questions to open things up. Then I'll probe, trying to walk the tightrope between leading toward a particular interpretation and leaving things so open that there's no "there there", to use Gertrude Stein's telling phrase.
At times I’ll draw attention to such short story elements as plot, setting, characterization, conflict, point of view, and theme, but mostly we’ll just try to figure out what the story is doing and how. This is not an original idea: there is a marvelous poetry text called How Does a Poem Mean? This is not to suggest that we’ll be highly analytical, just that we’ll read carefully. The greatest—and most pleasurable--learning will come from engaging together with rich material, just as we would in a Waring Humanities course. A rotating cast of faculty members will join our discussions, as fellow learners.