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Meet Lydia Davis: A Miami Book Fair author you may not know

October 15, 2009
Lydia Davis and friend

Lydia Davis and friend

Lydia Davis is a “writer’s writer,” revered among critics and other authors, but too little known among general readers. That may change with the publication of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, just out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Davis, who will be at the Miami Book Fair International on Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m., is a short story writer admired beyond measure by other writers. “The best prose stylist in America,” says Rick Moody–and that’s among the more moderate accolades.

Critics find her work irresistible, too. Glowing reviews of The Collected Stories can be found, among other places, at The Village Voice, Time Out Chicago, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer, where Craig Morgan Teicher calls her “master of a literary form largely of her own invention.”

That form is the very short story, what’s variously called “sudden fiction,” “flash fiction,” or “prose poems,” though Davis herself resists that last term in a meaty interview with The Believer, saying even the shortest prose fiction is ” flatter, rhythmically different from a poem, and less elliptical.”

How short is a Lydia Davis story? Here is one in its entirety. You can sample others at Drexel University’s website:

LOST THINGS

They are lost, but also not lost but somewhere in the world. Most of them are small, though two are larger, one a coat and one a dog. Of the small things, one is a certain ring, one a certain button. They are lost from me and where I am, but they are also not gone. They are somewhere else, and they are there to someone else, it may be. But if not there to someone else, the ring is, still, not lost to itself, but there, only not where I am, and the button, too, there, still, only not where I am.

Not all of Davis’ stories are this short (though some are much shorter). Some have something like narrative and something like characters. But as she tells The Believer, “I’m simply not interested, at this point, in creating narrative scenes between characters.”

In the course of her career, Davis has received a MacArthur Fellowship (the “genius award”), and she’s been a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and many other grants and prizes. She’s also a distinguished translator, with an internationally acclaimed translation of Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust. She’s currently at work on a new translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Don’t miss the opportunity to discover the work of this unique American talent. And be sure to see her at Miami Book Fair International (Nov. 8-15).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy permalink
    October 15, 2009 2:14 pm

    Huh? What? Wait, that was a story? I guess?

    “master of a literary form largely of her own invention.” Well I would hope so, she invented it she had better be good at it. I just invented imaginary fiction where you imagine a story I wrote and give me money, praise and awards for my stunning works of your imagination.

    I am a victim of the MTV short attention span era, this however is pushing it.

  2. rachel permalink
    October 15, 2009 3:49 pm

    I bought a McSweeney’s three book set a while back. One of the books was by Dave Eggers. I think that one of the other ones must have been written by Lydia Davis. And there was another author, maybe a Deb something. All three books were collections of short short stories. And if this literary form is largely her invention than she must be one of the authors, however I cannot find any information about this box set on the internet, not even on the McSweeney website which I find infuriating.

    I didn’t know what to expect with these books, but I loved them. I didn’t like every little story, but reading one after another I gobbled them up. And some worked better than others, and some didn’t hardly seem to work at all, and some were pure genius. They were kind of like poetry, and kind of like stories. But all running together it was quite an experience to read them.

    Thanks for this article Chauncey Mabe, I will now definitely go see her at the book fair. I also look forward to going home and confirming that she was the author of the book I am thinking of.

  3. December 10, 2009 9:40 am

    Hi Chauncey. I was just looking around and found your post here on Lydia Davis and her new book. Lydia’s work — especially her first big published work of collected fiction back in 1986, made me resolute that I absolutely had to persue my writing as seriously as possible, and then, between 1991 and 1994, I studied with her at Bard College’s Masters program and got my MFA there. She’s not only a trailblazing author in the fiction world, but a fine teacher and lovely person. She’s the very modest, quiet, and scholarly type, for all her brilliance and courage.

    It’s so encouraging to see someone who has made real innovations in an entire genre be, finally, after so many decades of tireless — and relatively thankless — work, has finally become accessable to and appreciated by the greater reading public, and has been rewarded for her perseverance and dedication in that way — and by her MacCarther award too.

    I would so love to say hello to her and congratulate her, but I live up here in Chicago. I’ll have to see if I can write her through FSG. I hope you enjoyed meeting her and hearing her read, and that it was a nice occassion for all.

    Your blog is excellent!!!

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