Saturday, 4 August 2012


Why does a man spend fifty years of his life in an occupation that is often painful?  I once told a class I was teaching that writing is an intellectual contact sport, similar in some respects to football.  The effort required can be exhausting, the goal unreached, and you are hurt on almost every play; but that doesn't deprive a man or a boy from getting peculiar pleasures from the game.
   In a preface to an earlier collection I described some of those pleasures.  Among them, I wrote, there is the reward of the storyteller, sitting cross-legged in the bazaar, filling the need of humanity in the humdrum course of the ordinary day for magic and distant wonders, for disguised moralizing that will set everyday transactions into larger perspectives, for the compression of great matters into digestible portions, for the shaping of mysteries into sharply edged and comprehensible symbols.
   Then there is the private and exquisite reward of escaping from the laws of consistency.  Today you are sad and you tell a sad story.  Tomorrow you are happy and your tale is a joyful one.  You remember a woman whom you loved wholeheartedly and you celebrate her memory.  You suffer from the wound of a woman who treated you badly and you denigrate womanhood.  A saint has touched you and you are a priest.  God has neglected you and you preach atheism.
   In a novel or play you must be a whole man.  In a collection of stories you can be all the men or fragments of men, worthy and unworthy, who in different seasons abound in you.  It is a luxury not to be scorned.

Introduction to Short Stories: Five Decades (1978, reprinted 2000)

IRWIN SHAW (19131984) was a playwright, novelist, screenwriter and one of the most underrated authors of short fiction in modern American literature.  Click HERE to download a free PDF copy of The Eighty Yard Run, one of his best and most frequently anthologized stories.  

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