The little genre, the short story, was the topic of discussion in a room grand enough for kings. Two-story mirrors echoed velvet-draped windows in a meeting-room in the Sorbonne. It was 1989. Professor Claire Larrièrre had invited to Paris an international group of scholars specializing in the short-story form, joined by a handful of writers who, at intervals, read samples from their work. In 1992, a similar gathering of scholars and writers came to the United States, at the instigation of Professor Mary Rohrberger at the University of Northern Iowa, and henceforth—variously constituted, and with varying subtitles—the International Conference on the Short Story in English has met every other year, several times at Iowa’s Regents’ universities, twice in New Orleans, and then once each in Madrid, Lisbon, Cork, and, in 2010, at York University in Toronto.
The series has continued to host both scholars and writers. Since the mid-nineties, the executive director has been Maurice A. Lee, a former student of Rohrberger’s and now the Dean of Liberal Arts at the University of Central Arkansas. For my own part, I have put together the academic panels. At nearly every conference, I have fielded a plenary session on some aspect of short fiction theory. In Toronto, I chose the author-next-door, Alice Munro, as the focal point for a display of theoretical approaches to the genre. Those five brief talks were the origin and inspiration for the essays collected here.
All of these writings are about the same story, Munro’s “Passion.” The goal, however, was not the explication of one text but the lining-up of theories, toe-to-toe, for [End Page 133] comparison. While an interest in Munro gave zest to the project, she was, in many ways, less its object than its prompt. The questions these papers address have to do with short fiction as a narrative genre, but also with the very idea of genre itself, and the very act of narration.
All of the theorists you will meet here are well known to the international community of scholars in this field, and have participated in many of the biennial conferences. To carry on the spirit of the original symposium, they have regrouped, in the final section of this issue, to respond briefly to each other’s essays, with follow-up replies. Brief biographies of the contributors appear at the very end. And now, to place their work in the larger context of narrative theory, all five authors have collaborated on the following introduction. [End Page 134]
Susan Lohafer has taught in both the American Literature area and the MFA Program in Nonfiction at The University of Iowa. She is the author of Coming to Terms with the Short Story and Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics, and Culture in the Short Story, as well as the co-edited collection Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Her essays on short fiction theory have appeared in various journals and collections, and she has published short stories in The Southern Review, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere.