Depending on your point of view, the percussion of fireworks tonight are either a challenge to this event or provide a dramatic and atmospheric setting for stimulating discussion and illuminating prose. Daniel Hahn is joined by Carmen Maria Machado and Chris Power to talk about their debut collections of short stories. Chris Power is known for his column on the short story which is published in the Guardian. Machado is presently Artist in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and she opens the session reading from her own contribution to the Freedom Papers which are available with the current issue of Gutter magazine.
Hahn asks whether the triggers for stories are always the same. For Power the beginning can come from images, lines or a person and they grow organically, glimpses of something that won’t leave you alone. Machado jests that she couldn’t possibly agree. For her there is always a question and as she writes the story she is answering the question for herself. Hahn queries whether the short story is the most suitable form for this exercise rather than the essay. She replies fiction is always the way, with the short story the writer has ‘infinite tools.’ Probing their interest in shorter forms more Hahn asks whether the short story offers more control. Power describes something of his discipline speaking about making decisions on a word by word and sentence by sentence level. Machado points to the role of the sub-conscious and how it can become woven into the text. They both agree that in literary fiction there must be ambiguity for the reader to come in, what Machado calls, ‘a suppleness.’ In a good short story each new reading will be rewarded, even if the reader knows what’s going to happen, within the ending there is something which sends you back into it. In poorer crafted pieces the ‘boom-tish’ can only hit once.
Power goes on the discuss Ava a character who appears in three of his stories in Mothers (2018). Asked how he feels about a collection as form he replies he wanted it to be rewarding for someone to read the collection as a whole and references Denis Johnson and Mavis Gallant. Machado talks about how her collection, Her Body & Other Parties (2017) growing out of her grad thesis, spending so long over compiling the order and still thinking of it as a, ‘mix-tape.’ She speaks about being influenced by Phillip Roth, how in his work women were held in such contempt and also points to stories which may appear to be for children but deal with enduring themes for women such as permission to speak and being silenced. Her work is sexually explicit literary fiction written by a woman. The hour closes, fittingly, with the panel discussing how freedom of speech can be used as a platform for speech fuelled by hatred.