Here’s a cringe-worthy disclosure: I wrote a short story collection way back in high school. It was part of my senior year thesis, a requirement for graduation. Our school had its own publishing arm that printed anthologies and literary titles. To my knowledge, mine was the only one they never released.
The admin at that time held a strictly conservative view on art. They questioned many aspects of my collection. Why write in colloquial Filipino? Why center the theme on something so bleak like poverty and political unrest? My biggest influences then were the prose of Jun Cruz Reyes and Lualhati Bautista, and the poetry of Emman Lacaba.
The school decided that my language was too vulgar and the theme was too mature for my age. They had a point. But I was a typical teenager with a penchant for romanticizing identity and selfhood. Ultimately I felt defeated and, ah, misunderstood.
That collection started and ended my writing career. I was 16.
What didn’t end, however, was my love for short stories. High school was a shit-bomb, but it condoned and honed my nascent love for reading. I was acquainted with kids who were voracious readers, and often I felt intimidated by their ability to devour advanced books. My roommates, for example, could already tackle Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters and Krip Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café at 14. Meanwhile I could barely even endure Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which was stylistically a children’s book.
This struggle stemmed from my discomfort with the English language. Even if I could understand the words as independent units, it was an entirely different endeavor to find their meanings between the lines. Have you ever read a novel and thought, ugh, ba’t hindi ko ma-gets? That was me, even over the simplest of texts.
And then came short stories.
Unlike full length novels, short stories could be read in a matter of minutes. That’s the clincher: the fact that these stories are short, brief, but not always to the point, still allowing some space for critical interpretation. Short stories also capture moments, not sagas — and I think that’s beautiful.
My appreciation for short stories have only gone deeper now that I am older. They’re like precious little kittens that I could keep, and they’re always there for me without demanding so much of my time. (I think I’m a dog person though, but that’s beyond the point.)
Below is a list of short stories in English that I compiled. I didn’t write a blurb for each of them, but hopefully this post is enough to encourage more people to give them a try. Some stories are shorter than others, and a few may be a little dense for the casual reader. But I have read them and I have loved them, and I am hoping that you, dear stranger, would also find joy in keeping them.
“Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood
“Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff
“Apollo” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“The Miracle Worker” by Mia Alvar*
“Zoetrope” by Richard Calayeg Cornelio
“In a Grove” by Ryosuke Akutagawa
“In The Garden” by Jose Dalisay Jr.
“Dead Stars” by Paz Marquez Benitez
“May Day Eve” by Nick Joaquin
“A Ghost Story” by Francezca Kwe
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Kurt Vonnegut
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin
*I did not find “The Miracle Worker” online, but it’s part of Mia Alvar’s short story collection In the Country, of which I have a copy. The collection explores themes on Filipino diaspora with particular attention to the immigrant experience in the Middle East. You can email me if you want to read it. And if you enjoy it, I suggest you get your own copy because I think it’s worth the money.