The Long Reach of the Short Story
Last fall, The Missouri Review (TMR) editor Speer Morgan and marketing director Kris Somerville established a new book imprint in order to publish a collection of short stories by an author whose work they had previously published and whom they both adored. Jane Gillette’s collection of short stories had been picked up by Johns Hopkins Press, but the editor became ill and the collection was never published.
“She is in her early ‘70s and had published stories in literary journals but had not had a collection published until now, and we just felt like this was a book we couldn’t let slip through our fingers, so we initially established the press to publish this collection,” Somerville says.
That collection by Gillette, The Trail of the Demon and Other Stories, was the first of what Somerville and Morgan hope is an annual offering by Missouri Review Books, focusing on previously unpublished collections of short stories, usually by a single author.
However, the next book, set to come out this fall, will feature short stories by TMR authors who have won the literary magazine’s Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize. Somerville says the stories in the upcoming collection are unified in terms of being rich in conflict.
“They are literary page-turners, and stories you would enjoy reading,” she says.
Sustaining a Legacy
Somerville and Morgan say the goal of the new book imprint is to advocate and promote short stories, especially short story collections that might not get picked up by a more commercial publishing house.
“It’s in the tradition of William Peden, who was the godfather of The Missouri Review and the best-known proponent of the short story 40 to 50 years ago,” Morgan says. “The Missouri Review became a well-known proponent of discovery in the short story.” In fact, Missouri Review Books’ mission statement notes that “Peden’s career was marked by his passion for the short story and his desire to ensure that story craft was recognized as a distinguished art form with the ability to entrench readers in place, event, and character. TMR has carried on his mission.” Peden was also the founder of the creative writing program at the University of Missouri.
Morgan says this year’s collection of Smith Prize winners, Trouble in Mind: Short Story and Conflict, could be a textbook for creative writing.
“The forward talks about the short story and the history of the short story,” Morgan says.
“In part, we argue that it’s not an American art form, but American authors have successfully been practitioners of the short story and have primarily taken it over,” Somerville says.
“It’s like baseball—it’s the American genre,” Morgan adds.