Kelly Link’s short stories blur the line between genre and literary fiction, drawing upon elements of fairy tale, science fiction, and horror.
The author, 49, of Northampton, Mass., has written three story collections and edited several anthologies, and was recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship for her trailblazing fiction.
“It doesn’t feel in any way like a practical joke, but it does not feel real either,” Link says, recalling the moment she learned of the award.
When she isn’t writing, Link and her husband, Gavin Grant, run Small Beer Press, a publisher of fantasy and literary fiction. And now, she is taking a hiatus from the short form to work on a novel.
“The difference with the novel is its capacity, and the sense that it keeps opening up,” she says. “I open a door and go through it and then there’s another door. The middle space between where I started and where I want to end up feels like an enormous and unexplored series of interesting rooms.”
Link is still devoted, though, to the short story. Here, she shares some of her favorite collections, and her thoughts on how they’ve inspired her own craft.
1. Grace Paley, The Little Disturbances of Man
“Grace Paley is one of my favorite writers. Her stories are very dialogue- and voice-driven, and have such a sense of a brain and a heart. She’s very funny and witty, but also unafraid to tackle big subjects. She pulls off tricks of narrative in a smaller space than any other writer. She’s the master of that. You read her work and think, ‘I didn’t know this was allowed.’ There’s a feeling of permission that her books can give you, that you can go off and do this and you’re not going to be by yourself.”
2. Karen Joy Fowler, Black Glass
“She was one of my teachers when I was studying creative writing, and I took her course because she was the instructor. She is somebody who straddles that line between science fiction, fantasy, and literary work. Fowler is like Grace Paley in the sense that her writing gives you permission to think and care about things very deeply, and shows that language could be used in such a way that isn’t just about precision or rhythm, but also conveys something about the person who is writing. Reading her work is like having a conversation with somebody. I keep a lot of duplicate copies of certain books to give to people, and Black Glass is one of those.”
3. Robert Aickman, Compulsory Games
“Aickman was a writer of the uncanny. He wrote a lot of ghost stories and a lot of stories that have this murky, airless quality to them. As a reader, you feel very estranged, but also very interested in what’s going on. His books have stayed in print in the U.K. much longer than in the U.S., but the New York Review of Books just put out Compulsory Games, a collection of some of his previously published and unpublished stories.”
4. Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
“It’s very difficult to build a collection around a theme, in which the theme doesn’t overwhelm the stories in that collection. Here, the idea of keys feels mysterious; it’s a very generous theme. Those stories really build on each other as the collection progresses forward. The theme enriches the movement of the collection, and the movement of the reader through it. It’s a great metaphor for the experience of reading short stories.”