An Interview with C Michael Curtis Prize Judge Lee K Abbott
We caught up with inaugural C Michael Curtis Prize judge Lee K Abbott to discuss the short story and the upcoming prize. Submissions open on August 1: learn a little about what Lee is reading for below!
Hub City: Why is the short story important?
Lee K Abbott: The short story is important because it breaks our confusing life into pieces that we can understand. It moves us precisely because it is short. It packs its own kind of wallop. Its material is not parochial or proscribed. Its power comes from its compression. It tells us the big thing by focusing on the small or brief. It is not practice for something longer (the novel, say). It is, albeit in miniature, the world itself.
HC: How did you settle on the short story as your form?
LKA: The glib answer—and I loathe the glib on principle—is that the story found me. What is closer to the truth is that as a fellow who came of age in the 60s, I wanted then whatever it was—money, fame, love, success—yesterday. Impatience, I think, was my watchword. I could fail at a story and it had cost me only a month or two of toil, not the years the novel takes. I also have a style that exhausts me, too dense and breakneck by half. Beyond that, I am curious, keen to get on to the next idea or situation that has galvanized my imagination. Finally, this: I do my best thinking at 20 to 40 pages; longer than that, I am lying; shorter than that, I am pulling punches.
HC: What collection of stories do you find yourself returning to most often? What makes it so good?
LKA: I am the product of a back street liaison between John Cheever and Eudora Welty. Down the block live Carson McCullers and Peter Taylor. John D. O’Hara comes for Christmas. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a pen pal. Seriously, I am hard pressed to think of a single volume that I return to with any regularity. Instead, every collection I read, good or not, is another collection I wish I’d read earlier.
HC: What are you looking for in a short story?
LKA: What I look for in a story is efficiency, originality, the use of all the tools peculiar to our trade, pressure and intensity, sentences that turn time toward beauty—an effort, in brief, that has cost the writer more than time to get between margins. And this, as well: I expect the writer to do all the work so that the reader has all the pleasure.
HC: We’re excited to have you as our inaugural judge for this prize. What are you most looking forward to in your role as judge?
LKA: I am most looking forward to being part of a process that brings to the literary world another voice we must absolutely attend to. I am tickled all sorts of silly and pink to be part of a project that will remind at least one teller of tales that all those hours at the keyboard have been worth the bother.