The Short Story: Sustaining Public Discourse through Narrative Truths

deadline for submissions: 
May 10, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Midwest Modern Language Association
contact email: 

In her introduction to the 2021 edition of the Best American Short Stories, two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward contends that short stories sustain us in a post-pandemic society sundered by misinformation, deep fakes, and a deficit of empathy. Citing the influence of her grandmother Dorothy’s own storytelling, Ward advocates for fiction with “language that evokes and renders sharply and beautifully even as it confounds.” In other words, Ward celebrates the short story as a narrative form that simultaneously generates and depicts the lived, embodied experiences of characters and their communities, even as it stirs audiences to interrogate their presumptions, attachments, and philosophies.

This panel seeks papers that explore and probe the short story’s capacity to engage with, complicate, or nuance public discourse, in dialogue with the 2023 Midwest Modern Language Association’s conference theme “Going Public.” In what ways does the short story sustain and nurture public discourse? How does the short story facilitate productive conversation on contemporary issues and controversies? What formal features or capacities allow the short story to perform this work, in comparison to other forms (including but not limited to the essay, the exposé, the news report, poetry, the visual arts, and so on)? We welcome presentations on short stories in any genre or narrative tradition, including papers on works in translation. Moreover, we invite critiques of the capacity of the short story or narrative broadly to sustain public discourse.

Papers will be considered for presentation on the Short Story permanent section panel at the 2023 Midwest Modern Language Association annual conference in Cincinnati, OH, from 2–5 November 2023. For consideration, submit an abstract of no more than 250 words, along with your current short bio, by email to Dr. Patrick Henry at no later than 10 May 2023.