Short Story Celebration

Report on Short Story Day South


Short Story Day South is a concept borrowed from the UK pilot project, National Short Story Day, celebrating short stories on the shortest day of the year (Short Story Day South). This year, the Cape Town event on 21 June was hosted at the Book Lounge.

“The short story shows that there are walls behind the house. It’s a scale model of something that could be larger,” said Liam Kruger (winner of the Bloody Parchment short story competition), speaking at the event last Tuesday.

Borges only wrote in this form. Nabokov, Bolaño, Murakami; their short stories have been appreciated only after the success of their novels. Part of an author’s rite of passage: an underpaid, lesser-published afterthought. Found at the bottom of one’s reading list, it is generally acknowledged that the short story is undervalued.

Yet, Short Story Day South’s celebration proved otherwise. Award-winning authors were on top form and avid readers gathered around the country to enjoy this endangered art form. Rachel Zadok initiated The Chain Gang writing challenge with over ten teams participating, and the Book Lounge team ultimately winning. She illuminated the essence of why storytelling is important. In a media-driven society where "deep reading" is becoming less popular, fiction captures our experience: “It explains us to ourselves,” she said. Zadok ended with a quote from Vivienne Westwood: “If we are all thinking the same thing, we are not thinking.” A timeless reminder that we are invited to experience the art of storytelling through many lenses.

Abraham de Vries started the reading, followed by Henrietta Rose-Innes. She read an excerpt from Southern gothic writer Flannery O’Connor’s A good man is hard to find, describing it as a story of redemption, grace and sin. Rose-Innes often chooses a novel over a story collection despite particular short stories having influenced her deeply. As a writer herself, she finds it possible to refine language in a short story more than in longer forms. “It’s not possible or even desirable to hammer away at every single sentence in a novel in the same way. I try to stay on top of things by producing short stories while I write novels." Perhaps, she says, people are wary of buying anthologies in which there may be stories of varying quality. She likes the idea of being able to download individual stories and enjoys reading collections by a single writer, where the collection has a unifying logic. There’s something about the intensity of short stories … they are stripped down, potent, and you can’t absorb too many of them in one sitting.

Just as the audience was beginning to get lost in the finer details of each story, Cape Talk host John Maytham interjected with something simple and dramatic. He wanted to read a story that "sounded" good rather than read well. His "sounding" of Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous “The tell-tale heart” held the audience in suspense through a riotous performance.

We are living in a techno-driven, distracted society. With the click of a mouse we can download information and entertainment far quicker than it takes to read a book or listen to a story. Lauren Beukes (recent winner of the Arthur C Clarke science fiction award) is aware of this. However, her fiction dives head-on into the fast-paced acceleration of time and place; the frenetic immediacy of the 21st Century, incorporating both real human interest and what is possible through science and technology. She sees the short story as an intelligent, accessible way of experiencing literature. “A poignant moment in time”, the perfect thing to read on a subway, in-between stops. She’s inspired by such South African anthologies as Touch and Home Away. Beukes read Charlie Human’s “Dance Dance Revolution”, Sarah Lotz’s “Joan”, as well as cellphone fiction by Sam Wilson, all from the contemporary Chew magazine. Wilson, incidentally, is the creator of – a site where kids can download cellphone stories to their mobiles.

There seems little reason why the short story should not be remunerated and regarded as the equivalent of good journalism. Self-contained, it requires an economy of language. The short story is just as powerful as the novel and now being well received throughout the country, not only through Short Story South but through platforms both off- and online, the most recent being a local website, Shorty's Short Stories Shebeen ( With our attention spans shortening it may be the solution, a valuable and alternative way of experiencing the written word.