It seems like we’re always on the precipice of a short story renaissance, of the year that the length of our bestsellers finally aligns with our collective attention spans. While it’s hard to say 2020 was a breakout year for anything aside from disaster, it was still an embarrassment of riches for fans of the genre, with such highly anticipated releases from Danielle Evans and Randall Kenan, alongside exciting debuts by Souvankham Thammavongsa and Leah Hampton. While a certain prestigious newspaper only included one collection on its 100 notable books list this year, for those looking to sate their appetites further, we humbly suggest digging into the many offerings from small and independent presses, where the biggest risks and wildest swings are often being taken. We’ve highlighted a few greats from Ashleigh Bryant Phillips and Megan Cummins already. Here are ten more to add to your to-read pile in 2021.
By Michael Credico
Autumn House Press
Writers like Lydia Davis and Amy Hempel have made their careers on the fine-tuned art of flash fiction, but you won’t find anything like their delicate aphorisms in these pages. Like the Coen brothers by way of Samuel Beckett with a zombie or two thrown in for good measure, Michael Credico’s clipped style and deadpan humor mimics and complicates the “Midwestern nice” that flyover country is infamous for, blazing new trails all his own.
Cars on Fire
By Mónica Ramón Ríos; Translated by Robin Myers
Already celebrated in her native Chile, Mónica Ramón Ríos makes her English-language debut with a collection as uncompromising as its title. With settings that span from New York to South America, these stories track a series of female characters—the writer, the patient, the immigrant, the professor, the student—as they confront revolutions both global and personal, creating a kaleidoscopic portrait of protest.
Better Never Than Late
By Chika Unigwe
Cassava Republic Press
Born in Nigeria and now living in Belgium, award-winning author Chika Unigwe mines her own immigrant experiences for this vibrant collection of interconnected stories that follow a group of African expats as they navigate the everyday absurdities and heartbreaks of their new homeland. Like the flip-flopped phrase of its title, Better Never Than Late pieces together the seemingly-familiar into a new and surprising whole.
New Bad News
By Ryan Ridge
The latest release from Sarabande’s Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature, New Bad News is like an anarchic Twitter feed run amok, full of feverish absurdities and off-kilter pop-culture references. With neon-buzzing prose, Ryan Ridge captures an America of wax figure museums and cam girls, the characters within lurching like Frankenstein’s monster towards a clarity that remains forever out of reach.
By Dima Alzayat
Two Dollar Radio
Syrian by birth but raised in California, Dima Alzayat’s debut tackles such heady and timely topics as immigrational displacement, institutional racism and violence, and intergenerational trauma without ever feeling didactic or emotionally remote. Like the best collage artists, Alzayat cuts apart America’s accepted history and pastes it back together into something completely startling and fresh.
The World Doesn’t Work That Way, But It Could
By Yxta Maya Murray
University of Nevada Press
Boasting both a law degree and the prestigious Whiting Writer’s Award, Yxta Maya Murray brings real-world expertise and artistic integrity to her ripped-from-the-headlines stories. Unafraid to tackle tricky political issues with the directness they deserve, Murray’s characters negotiate the aftershocks of wildfires, hurricanes, school shootings, and other American pastimes in narratives that feel both of-the-moment and distressingly timeless.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
By Deesha Philyaw
West Virginia University Press
The rare small press story collection to break through to the big leagues of the National Book Awards, Deesha Philyaw’s debut is truly something special. Focusing on the lives of Black women as their private desires chafe against public expectations, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a new classic in the vein of Winesburg, Ohio, inviting outsiders into the dimly lit corners of small-town America to illuminate just how universal our disappointments and triumphs are.
Father Guards the Sheep
By Sari Rosenblatt
University of Iowa Press
Fans of Stephanie Vaughn’s cult classic Sweet Talk shouldn’t miss this Iowa Short Fiction Award-winning collection, which shares its tender fascination with the sometimes loving, sometimes fraught relationships between fathers and children. Warm as a heavy coat with a familiar scent, Father Guards the Sheep invites us into worlds of ordinary inheritance, where moments of transcendence bubble up from strange circumstances like much-needed laughter.
The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories
By Caroline Kim
University of Pittsburgh Press
Winner of the 2020 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Caroline Kim’s collection is a multifaceted chorus of voices from the Korean diaspora, spanning widely across genres and settings from the ancient world to a future yet to come. As her characters struggle with the barrier of language, what joins them all is a yearning to connect while maintaining their own history and sense of self, positing translation as an act of love.
Where the Wild Ladies Are
By Aoko Matsuda; Translated by Polly Barton
Soft Skull Press
Those of you on the hunt for your next Angela Carter fix, look no further than this delightfully defiant feminist remixing of traditional Japanese folklore. Translated with verve by Polly Barton, Aoko Matsuda’s ghosts are spirited in the best sense, free from the societal and emotional constraints that come with being human to wreak their domestic and professional havoc in acts of subversive reclamation, like a Miyazaki cartoon gone rogue.
Sara Batkie is the author of the story collection Better Times, which won the 2017 Prairie Schooner Prize and is now available from University of Nebraska Press. Her stories have been published in various journals, honored with a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and twice received Notable Story citations in the Best American Short Stories anthology series. Born in Bellevue, Washington and raised mostly in Iowa, Sara currently lives and works in Madison, Wisconsin.