By November 17, 2009 3 Comments Read More →

How to Run a Short Story Reading Group

  • Book a meeting room. Book a meeting room for successive months. Have a positive self help kind of attitude that says “I know lots of people are going to enjoy attending my short story reading group, so I’m going to book the room for the same time each month for an entire year, right out of the gate, just like that!”
  • Pick a time. My group meets the first Friday of each month at 10:30 in the morning. This time has worked out for us. On average 15 people attend each session which is about right, I’d say. A few times the group has been over 20 and that seemed to change the dynamic – people were less willing to speak up. On the rare occasion when fewer than 10 people attended, a similar phenomenon transpired. What does this say about human nature? I don’t know.
  • Pick stories. I’ve relied on the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, and the annual Best American Short Stories collections. But I’ve also dipped into Best American 41r1vgesa5l__sl160_Mystery Stories, 50 Great Short Stories, and various themed anthologies. I’ve tried to group stories to read that offered opportunities for discussion. So, at times I’ve picked authors whose work gets lumped together by critics – such as Edith Wharton and Henry James. At other times I’ve picked authors by country of origin, such as Chekhov and Turgenev. I chose many contemporary authors, and many woman authors because these are often, but not always, popular with the group. The first two stories I chose were “Guest s of the Nation,” by Frank O’Connor and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” by Flannery O’Connor. Frank O’Connor was a pen name of the Irish author Michael O’Donovan, and Flannery O’Connor was an Irish-American author from Savannah, Georgia. Is that enough of a connection? Sure, because the stories are really great works of art about which there is lots to say, and lots to ponder, and lots to try to figure out. So be creative, mix and match, pick stories you’ve loved, pick authors 51assykv-gl__sl160_you’ve heard a lot about, pick a wide variety and figure it out as you go.
  • Find and print out some information about the author. Start the discussion, after saying hi, and “did you find a place to park?” by reading a short introduction about the author’s life.
  • Read about the story, if you can. Read what others have said about it so you can put together some questions to help get the conversation rolling. Some good standby questions include: What is the significance of the title? Is the setting of the story important? Why does the main character get shot at the end of the story? (Well, this applies to “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” but you get the idea.) Most questions arise as the discussion progresses. It’s worth noting that keeping the conversation going is your primary role, so pick up on what people are saying and go from there. Do not say the following, even if you are thinking it: “Are you sure you read the same story the rest of us read?” Remember what your grade school teacher said – there are no stupid questions, or, in this case, comments.
  • Publicize the reading group. Write a press release and send it out. Make a flyer and hang it up. Tell literary types you know. Get the information on the library Web site, etc. Repeat.
  • Make copies of the stories and a cover sheet with the time and place available for people to pick up. I leave the stories at the Circulation Desk.
  • Have fun.

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3 Comments on "How to Run a Short Story Reading Group"

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  1. Wolf.holly@gmail.com' Holly Wolf says:

    Any legal implications with distributing copies?

  2. atodd@phpl.info' Alex says:

    We run out short story group differently and market it more of a ‘story time for adults’ type event. No preparation is required for the attendees – they show up and we listed to the story together.

    Either I’ll read it or I’ll get a CD version. The stories are about 40 minutes long (20 pages for me) and then we spend the rest of the time talking about it.

    Group members like it because it’s low stress – they just pop in and have the group.

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