10 Greatest Short Story Writers?

Over at Listverse, they do a great job of amassing a huge number of Top 10 Lists, but the ten greatest short story writers is wack.

Okay, they have some shoo-ins (oh, and they limit it to American short story writers). O'Henry? I'll grant that. Poe? Sure.

Then debatables. Asimov? Well, he's a talented writer, especially if you're in the SF scene, so that one could be argued in terms of preference. And same goes for Steven King.

But Ray Bradbury, I'll grant that fullstop — he's a guy who's risen above genre to the level of pure greatness (although his greatness is certainly in his past, and not in the drivel he keeps pushing out these days).

And sorry, JD Salinger just doesn't make the cut. Nine stories is really his only proper story collection (the others are novellas). Besides, he's really known for Catcher in the Rye. Except if when he dies he comes out with a treasure trove of stuff he's been writing for decades — then he might well turn into a contender for the list.

Also got to argue with Updike. His fame rests on the Rabbit books and other novels, and though I respect his facility with poetry and essays and short stories, it's still all about the novels.

The ultimate WTF moment? Chuck Palahniuk. Seems like the list author had a secret Man Crush, cause there is no other way Chucky is getting on this list (even despite the kick-ass I-am-Wolverine photo)

What we desparately need is some Cheever, some Flannery, some Hemingway, some Carver, and less of a list weighted toward Genre Folk and Old Fuddy Duddies.

Of course, if you'd like to argue as well, you can wade into the forum and join the 202 commenters who have already given their two cents.

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20 thoughts on “10 Greatest Short Story Writers?

  1. Kim says:

    I think Nine Stories can get Salinger in, and even if there are boxes of material in his house, he’s lived like a hermit for 40 years I’m not so sure I’d be all that interested in it. I agree, can’t have the list without Cheever.

  2. robot books says:

    “What we desparately need is some Cheever, some Flannery, some Hemingway, some Carver…”
    Love this list. I also looked at the list and was a little taken aback that the whole list was white men.

  3. Bookfox says:

    Kim: Didn’t Flannery say that by the time we were 10 years old we had enough experience to mine for material for the rest of our lives? So I guess I’m not that worried about his recluse lifestyle.
    Robot Books: I know, right? Just a little Alice Munro would help out here.

  4. Brent says:

    I’ll make a top 10 list, because BookFox is right—listserve is wrong!
    I’ll agree with:
    Flannery O’Connor
    I’d add: Hawthorne (better and more prolific than Irving)
    Faulkner (how American is Yoknapatawpha County?)
    After that, I can see cases for:
    O’Henry (Certainly influential and has an award named after him, but have you read any of his stories lately? Most rely on “surprise” twist endings and extreme pathos.)
    Willa Cather (her novels are more well known, but I’ve been impressed by her stories, too. And she wrote lots of them.)
    Eudora Welty (iconic, especially in the south.)
    Updike (I think his short stories are equal to or even surpass his novels, contrary to BookFox.)
    Salinger (but so few stories.)
    Irving (almost no stories other than “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Some would say that he didn’t write stories at all, but “sketches.” Still, he anticipated Poe and Hawthorne, and was the first American writer to gain popularity in England for his short work.)

  5. Bullwinkle says:

    Just have to say that Updike is an absolute master of the short story, and his short stories comprise his best work. (And I think, since BookFox bases his argument as to what Updike is famous for, you’ll find a large body of opinion which shares the belief his short stories are what Updike is all about.)

  6. Bookfox says:

    Okay, already. You two caught me — I’m not much of a Updike fan.
    Have to side with David Foster Wallace on this one: Updike’s Great White Narcissism is too much for me to swallow.

  7. sam says:

    Maybe ill be in that list one day, check out my blog, you’ll find some good reading

  8. Leonard Michaels
    Donald Barthelme
    Angela Carter
    Ryonosuke Akutagawa
    They certainly sit with the best.

  9. Chris says:

    Hemingway HAS to be on the list: Snows of Kiliminjaro, A Way You’ll Never Be, the Killers, Indian Camp, MacComber, are more intense, vivid, and memorable to me than almost any other American’s short stories.
    Poe is overrated, to me. Great imagination, though.
    Cheever, definitely.
    Updike is skillful and prolific, though his subject matter tends to be a little mundane to me.

  10. Jamie says:

    I agree with Cheever, Carver, Flannery, Hemingway, though how about Richard Yates, James Salter, Frank O’Connor, Eudora Welty, John O’Hara, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Katherine Ann Porter, Chekov! Chekov again,William Trevor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tennessee Williams, William Trevor, Joy Williams, Annie Proulx, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Babel, Grace Paley, Andre Dubus, Breece Pancake, JF Powers, Tobias Wolff, Peter Taylor, Italo Calvino, Morley Callaghan, Larry Brown, Gogol…

  11. Leesa says:

    I’m going to say that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing is crap. I mean really “The Scarlet Letter” was stupid and boring. But I’ll agree with Edgar Allen Poe and some of Updike…

  12. Dan says:

    James Joyce’s stories, especially “the Dead” are among the best in the literature

  13. Arlee Bird says:

    Flannery O’Connor definitely makes the top 5 if not number 1. Each time I go back over one of her stories I am more amazed.
    Tossing It Out

  14. Kate says:

    What about Grace Paley and Alice Walker?

  15. Donne Storino says:

    OK, y’all made very good points, But The Jilting of Granny Weatherall by Katherine Porter is the greatest short story in American English.

  16. Gordon Garver says:

    Got to say that I’ve read short stories written by all of the writers who made it to the list, but I don’t see the point in doing those kind of lists anymore… I mean why not to focus on new writers? Bradbury, Poe, Asimov… sure all of them are amazing, but for God’s sake, let’s make a fresh ranking. There are so many fascinating contemporary writers that still breathe, you know! Recently I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s shorts and they are great. I also came across some very interesting works by Etgar Keret and Joel Strivewell. Let’s write about that! Who do you find to be the most interesting short story writer nowadays?

  17. Bill Mac says:

    Well, I’ll start with one of the best, and funniest of the twentieth century, Ring Lardner, then progress to Damon Runyon, and what about Finley Peter Dunne(alias Mr. Dooley). and so on and so forth. George Ade could also make my list. Newspaper(journalists) were some of the most noteworthy writers.

  18. Micah says:

    I saw this list and also had a wtf moment. Here are my thoughts.

    All time best American story writers:

    The easy 8

    Kate Chopin
    O. Henry,
    Flannery O Connor

    Cheever and Updike have close fight, but Cheever wins out.
    Tobias Wolff is a modern master who has no peers

  19. Tom says:

    Any list that doesnt include Jorge Luis Borges is a ridicule. Anybody who has read Aleph would agree with me…

  20. Charlton Griffin says:

    No list of short story writers is complete without mentioning W. Somerset Maugham. If you doubt it, read “The Outstation”.

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