Story Time


In its nearly 75-year history, The American Scholar has never published a single short story. Now in the Summer issue we offer two of them, and we intend to bring out stories at about that rate for the foreseeable future. A couple of questions arise. Why hasn’t the Scholar published fiction before? (The magazine has always published poetry—we don’t have a prejudice against the creative in favor of the critical or the essayistic.) My guess is that, ever since the earliest years of the magazine, so many other publications have been publishing fiction there has never been an urgent need for us to do so. The second question is why would we start to print it after all this time? That’s easy. Fewer and fewer magazines other than the literary quarterlies publish fiction, and even those that do seem to do it halfheartedly. When The Atlantic announced last summer that it would no longer offer short stories each month as part of its regular editorial mix, some sort of line was crossed. Our contributing editor Ann Hulbert suggested that the Scholar try to reverse this unhappy trend, and we couldn’t think of one good reason not to. I like to think that the best sort of fiction can take us places—physical, psychological, and moral places—that are inaccesible to even the best sort of nonfiction. In the year since Ann’s suggestion, a very lucky thing happened to us. Frances Kiernan, a former fiction editor at The New Yorker, agreed to join the editorial board of the Scholar to help us think through the possibility of publishing short stories. Then, miracle of miracles, she offered, at least for a while, to acquire and edit them for us. We knew enough to say yes immediately. Judge how well she has done her work by reading the wonderful stories in this issue: Alice Munro’s mysterious and affecting “What Do You Want to Know For?” and David Leavitt’s elegant “Dinners at Six.”

One practical reason for not running fiction did come to mind. How would our small staff handle the onslaught of creative-writing-program-generated manuscripts sure to follow the publication of our first short story? We struggle to keep up with the unsolicited nonfiction manuscripts. A doubling or tripling of submissions might result in editorial defenestration—either these manuscripts learn to fly or we do. Still, we have reluctantly decided to discourage the submission of unsolicited fiction.

The Scholar has always encouraged young talent. We’re very proud that an essay by the youthful Emily Bernard, “Teaching the N-Word,” has been selected for The Best American Essays 2006, and we commend to you the writing and thinking of the fine young scholar Susannah Rutherglen in this issue.  Send those stories someplace else, please. We promise to come knocking when your talent has blossomed.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Robert Wilson's most recent book is Barnum: An American Life. He was the editor of the Scholar for more than 17 years.


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