(Archived) Special issue of the JSSE on “The Short Stories of Elizabeth Spencer”
Five-time O. Henry Award winner Elizabeth Spencer has often said that the sole purpose of her writing is to create a fictional world her readers can relate to. In the short essay “On Writing Fiction,” she explains: “I look on myself as a story teller and on each story I tell […] as a unique thing demanding my best efforts. I give to each with considerable trepidation and considerable joy. I have for each as it appears before the great indifferent world, the qualm of a parent who sees her child arise to perform publicly for the first time. I wonder if the commas are all in place and the hair of each metaphor is properly combed. I wish, not for myself, but the story to do well, to rise and shine” (71). The most famous example of such a story is “The Light in the Piazza” for it met instant success when it came out in The New Yorker in 1960 and is still regarded as emblematic of Spencer’s oeuvre. A film adaptation of the story was also released in 1962 and, more recently, the story was transformed into a successful musical.
Spencer is also interested in places and in the way people interact with their environment. As a consequence of her many travels, Spencer not only focuses on her native South in her stories but also on Italy and Canada. The publication of The Southern Woman: New and Selected Fiction (2001) is, unlike The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer (1981), organized according to the setting of the stories and not according to their dates of publication. Readers can therefore travel with the characters to various places from “The South” to “Italy” to places “Up North.” More recently, Spencer published the critically-acclaimed collection Starting Over (2013), which earned her numerous prizes including the 2013 Rea Prize for Short Fiction. In this collection, she has her readers meet characters who are trying to start anew—as the title suggests—and very often find themselves revisiting the past. Bringing the South, her South, into the 21st century, Spencer shows new concerns though the old ones are still lurking in the back…a look at this collection or at some of its stories will thus be interesting to show Spencer’s evolution as a writer.
If writing about the South is not surprising from someone who was born there, Spencer explains in “One Writer’s Sense of Place,” that writing about Italy also came naturally: “I had learned first hand quite a lot about Italy, had been enchanted with an enchanting country, also had had a few spells of disillusionment.” Her Italian stories exemplify this duality as they can either portray a sunny beautiful country or a cold unfriendly place. Spencer’s narratives rely on tension and, more often than not, she has her characters work through their deepest fears. The aim of this issue of the Journal of the Short Story in English is to assess Elizabeth Spencer’s art as a story teller by focusing on her stories’ structures, their major themes and the importance of place.
Contributors might discuss (but these are only suggestions and other ideas are welcome) the following topics:
The individual’s relation to his past,
The sense of place (Europe, Canada, the South…)
Belles and rebels,
Southern customs and southern manners
“The Light in the Piazza” at the movies or at the theater
Particular attention will be devoted to Spencer’s use of other genres such as the Gothic (“First Dark”, “Owl”), fantasy (“The Boy in the Tree”) or autobiography (“A Christian Education”) in her short fiction. Articles might also focus on a particular story or on two or more connected stories (The Marilee stories or the Edward Glenn stories, for instance). Contributions might also focus on the narrative strategies used in Spencer’s short fiction or on the reception of her stories. Finally, the place of the short story within the Spencer canon might be considered (the thematic relation between “The Cousins” and No Place for an Angel, for example).
Proposals (of 200 to 300 words) should be sent by March 31, 2016 along with a short bio-bibliography. Completed articles (not to exceed 6,000 words) must follow the MLA Style Manual and include an abstract in French (not to exceed 250 words). Submissions will be peer-reviewed and are due by January 30, 2017.
Please send all queries and proposals to the guest editor, Gérald Préher, Institut Catholique de Lille, CRILA (email@example.com).