Our sixth anthology of outstanding work by emerging writers, with stories selected by Roxane Gay, publishes in October and is available for pre-order. We are so excited, we couldn’t wait until next month to share Roxane Gay’s wonderful introduction to these ten awesome tales. We are so grateful to have worked with Roxane Gay on this volume, and we can’t wait to share it with you.
“And though I rarely am interested in stories about sad white people in sad marriages, there was one such story that absolutely made me forget I ever said I was not interested in such stories.”
When I am judging a literary contest, I am often asked what I am looking for in a good short story or essay. I offer up the kinds of work I am not really interested in reading—stories about college students, stories about writers, stories about sad white people in sad marriages, stories about addiction, stories about cancer. This probably seems overly prescriptive but when you read a certain kind of story too many times, you develop emotional callouses. The only thing that heals those emotional callouses is a great writing that offers up something refreshing and unexpected, whether it’s a writing style or a unique character or a rich sense of place or an unforgettable plot.
I am looking for writing that I will continue thinking about long after I have finished reading, for writing I want to read over and over again, for writing that will always stay with me. As I read the stories and essays for The Master’s Review Volume VI, I took my time. I read most of them while on book tour, on airplanes, and the stories I loved most were those that made me forget that I was in the middle of an exhausting tour on yet another terrible flight.
In “A Man Stands Tall,” I loved the premise, of a family doing one of those reality competitions where people pretend to live in a different time, without the comforts of modernity. The writing was crisp and precise and as the story proceeded, I kept wondering how it would all end, and then when I got to the end, I lost my breath, literally. I gasped, staring at the page, unsure of what I had just read and so I re-read it to see if I had misunderstood. I had not. And the audacity of the ending, the fierceness of it, made me put the stack of stories and essays down and just stare out the window at the clouds. A few minutes later I read the story again, and again and my goodness, my appreciation for the work only grew. If I could put into words how that story has made me feel since I first read it, that is what I would say every time I am asked what I am looking for.
The ten stories I selected for this anthology all moved me in that same way, where I either gasped or my heart pounded or my mind was simply blown by the story the writer had created. Take “Gormley,” for example. This is not the kind of story I am typically drawn to but the writing was delicate and careful and so perfectly matched to the setting. I was immersed in the world of the story and did not want to emerge from it. I felt the same way about “Confessions about a Lady in Waiting,” the title of which becomes doubly brilliant when you get to the end of the story. There was such an unexpected turn of events just past the middle of the story, and throughout, so much lush detail about the royal court, the king and queen, the women who served them in all ways.
“Migrations,” about a social service worker who is looking in on a family whose children have not been seen out of their home in quite some time, is haunting and a sly, sly commentary on race in America. “Little Men,” was one of the strangest stories I have ever read. I am still unsettled by the little man in the story and the woman who carries him around and the life she is living and how what seems like an odd domestic story is actually so much more.
And though I rarely am interested in stories about sad white people in sad marriages, there was one such story that absolutely made me forget I ever said I was not interested in such stories. In “Speakers of Other Languages,” a long married couple finds their long, unspoken arrangement quietly shattered when a member of the construction crew, working on their home renovation, becomes the source of great interest.
The other stories I selected were equally compelling to me. “Out of Our Suffering,” is exactly the kind of story I love so my bar is high. This story exceeded that bar and then some because it was so unflinching and full of heart. I marveled at the plainspoken but powerful narrative voice of “Steal Away,” and a story about sharecroppers not so long after slavery’s end. An Alaskan man trying to make sense of his responsibility toward his family is at the center of “Hope Gold,” and a sister also grapples with such responsibility as she tries her best to love and look after her bipolar brother in, “This Is an Exercise in Detachment.”
I read thirty stories for this anthology and it was very difficult to narrow down that list to only ten. There are no more emotional callouses here. To read writing of the caliber of stories I was lucky enough to read is one of many reminders that this is a remarkable time to be alive and reading. I hope, as you read these ten stories, that you feel the same.
by Roxane Gay