The Big Power of Short Stories

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Beaufort plays host to another cultural first this weekend – the first annual Short Story America Festival.  You get to hear the award-winning stories from the anthology Short Story America 1 and 2 read aloud – sometimes by fans like me and other times by the authors themselves. Like Ron Tucker has done for the Beaufort International Film Festival, Tim Johnston and his army of volunteers have managed to get many of the authors themselves to come from around the country to share their work. So if you love the Q&A with filmmakers and screenwriters you met at BIFF, here’s your chance to talk to some of the country’s best short story writers. They’re even going to play a short film from BIFF during intermission Saturday evening, the wonderfully scary “Beast”, which I’m betting started out as a short story.

I’ll admit – I’m not a long-time devotee of short stories; I’m more of a recent convert. What converted me were the short stories my poet friends got me reading – Mary Alice Monroe, Rosario Castellanos and Etgar Keret and the like. I began to see how much the literary form has in common with poetry – the concision, the layering of meaning and the musicality of carefully chosen words. So it came as no big surprise to realize that the poet Warren Slesinger (USCB students might know him as professor Slesinger, others as the publisher of Bench Press and the guy he first published, Ron Rash) is also a great short story writer. The stories I’ve heard him read at Otram Slabess gatherings are like mirrors of his heart – they cut right to what pauses him, what haunts him. They are elegant and wistful and they say more in a few pages than some of the great big long mighty famous novels of late did (I’m talking to you – Roberto Bolano and the practically 2666 days of misery you put me through)

You can hear Warren read his work “Box of Light” at an 11am session on Saturday at USCB and “Once Again and Then” during the second half of the evening session of readings. The other must-see event, in my opinion, is Natalie Daise’s reading of Guy Tirondola’s “Israel’s Pig.” Great, I just realized the award winning actress (she’s way more than Gullah Gullah Island, in case you’re in a time warp, Natalie’s latest artistic triumph is her one-woman show as Harriet Tubman) reads right before I do. Talk about a hard act to follow. Luckily, I’ll be reading a great story by a very talented New England writer who unfortunately can’t come – Michele Coppola. I won’t give it away, but anyone who’s ever loved a dog, or a man, will feel this one in the gut.

So – to come – the best deal is to go online and “register” for an all-events pass. IT’s easy…just click this . For $35 you get to go to a reception Friday night in the Old Bay Marketplace Loft where authors will sign copies of Short Story America, plus free entrance to the writing seminars Saturday morning and the readings. Here’s a good wrapup of the schedule from the literary champions at Low Country Weekly. I’m hoping Tim and the writers get a big turnout so the festival stays where it started, right here, instead of moving on to bigger cities.

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