Dybek grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.
Most of his stories are based in this spirited
neighborhood of “free-thinkers.” In our discussion, Stuart shares with
views about the atmosphere of Pilsen, and about Prague
where he just returned from his 11th summer of teaching in
the Summer Writing Program through Western Michigan University.
We also explore flash fiction and its many faces, and the
difficulty of writing prose, short or long.
Mark Twain wrote: I
didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one
Why is it so difficult to write good short fiction?
I have long been
intrigued by the notion of compression in prose, of what defines it,
its measure, and how is it achieved. I have "taught" forms
classes on the subject at places such as the U.
but the "teaching" was more of a personal investigation into the
subject. It isn't a subject that much has been written about.
book I know on it is by a Japanese author writing on haiku, called Traces of Dream. So, that said,
don't know that—keeping it short—I really have any succinct
starters, despite the lovely Twain quote, I am not sure I’m comfortable
the implication that short is more difficult to write than
each pose different challenges so far as form, invention, etc, and each
different satisfactions. For instance, I don't know that the
character can ever be as effective in a short piece as it can in a
longer work. I think it is simply difficult to write anything
long, prose, verse, fiction, nonfiction...
VR: Do you discuss flash fiction
with your students? What do you suggest to them regarding the
length of a
story—and when it's time to end it?
My students are
generally pretty interested in flash fiction. It is
right now. I don't actually subscribe to the notion
that it is some
kind of new genre. I am distrustful of how fashionable it is,
even though I have long written in the “form”—if that word even
For me it is yet another manifestation/development of the tale, the
poem—I know people want to do some Aristotelian thing about figuring
is a prose poem and what is flash fiction. Personally, I
less. What interests me is that they are both about
compression in prose,
and that nearly automatically opens up the notion of the relationship
the lyrical and the narrative. One might argue that, by making
distinction, one can use the flash fiction “genre” to redefine what
is. But that idea ignores the way the narrative is expressed
in the prose
poem (which is supposedly about expanding the definition of what a poem
The other thing I am interested in is the idea of
fragmentation. In France,
rather than flash fiction, one name they have for these
little pieces that have been called so many things—short short,
microfiction, etc.—is fragments. That, I find far more
calling them flash fiction. I think the current urge to see
as a new form and genre onto itself, which then demands that it is
superficial notions such as word count, is far less interesting to me
seeing flash fiction as a symptom, a manifestation of an ongoing
has to do with compression in prose, the counterpoint between the
narrative, fragmentation, and the redefinitions of both story and
of the things that intrigues me most, and also where I think the best
done using short form, is in sequencing the fragments. When
about flash fiction, that idea of sequence is too often
name flash fiction steers one to thinking about it as a single
piece. It leaves out a genuine masterpiece such as Italo
Calvino’s Invisible Cities.
the author of three short story collections, Childhood and
Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with
Magellan. His short
work can be seen in places like The New
Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic
and The Paris
He is the recipient of
many literary awards and teaches at Northwestern University.
is a permanent faculty member of The Prague Summer Writing Program.
is Senior Associate Editor for Vestal
Review. Her short work and interviews can be found at venues
like Pindledyboz, Ink Pot and Web Del Sol.
full text of this interview is available in print issue 34.