shining the spotlight on short story collections
Huge congratulations to Petina Gappah whose story collection, Elegy for Easterly, has been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the only short story collection on the list! Said our reviewer (yes, it was me):
There are those who write fiction in order to educate, to say “This is how things are done, this is what you must know, read and learn”. But in my opinion, education is not the primary aim of fiction. Fiction must, above all, bring the reader a gripping story, characters that we want to follow, to see what happens to them. This is where Petina Gappah excels: first and foremost, she tells great stories, and, almost incidentally, we learn as we read. We learn about Zimbabwe, the rhythms of its language, the corruption of its politics, the AIDS epidemic, the relations between neighbours and friends, between rich and poor, between Africa and the rest of the world, between parents and their children. These stories are full of atmosphere, of cultural detail, and we drink it in, because we are so taken with the story and the characters. Gappah has hooked us.
I did not have a collection in mind at all, especially because very early on in my writing career, someone pretty high up in publishing had told me that there was no interest in story collections. So I wrote stories as a way of flexing my writing muscle, and to find my “voice”, with no thought of collecting them in a single volume, until my agent Claire Paterson, at the time we were looking for publishers for my novel, suggested putting them together in a single manuscript. I was stunned when Faber offered to publish them. This went against all that I had heard about publishers’ loathing of short stories.