I racconti di Lydia Davis

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You let your work be collected as “stories” but never as “short stories.” Why is that?
To me a short story is a defined traditional form, the sort of thing that Hemingway wrote, or Katherine Mansfield or Cechov. It is longer, more ­developed, with narrated scenes and dialogue and so on. You could call some of my stories proper short stories. Most of the others I wouldn’t call short ­stories, even though many are very short. Some you could call ­poems—not many.
So you consider some of your stories to be poems?
Yes, it depends very much on the impulse behind them. Some I want to be very flat and prosey. They’ll still have their own music and rhythm, but they won’t be songs. And then others I think of as songs. And those are poems, even if they don’t look like poems on the page. I think I have always held poems in the highest esteem, of all forms of writing, and still do. I’m not saying there aren’t amazing stories and amazing novels. But I suppose that what a poem can do amazes me more.
Do you consciously plan to write one kind of story or another? Or is each one intuitive?
I’m leery of planning stories out ahead of time. Almost without exception they’ll start from an idea or a phrase, which I then plunge right into and explore. If I stop to think, This ought to be in the first person plural, or, This ought to be one unbroken paragraph, or whatever, I think it would stop me. They are intuitive. They may all embed a bit of narrative because I like narrative. I’m very fond of stories and storytelling—I think most people are. Almost everyone gets more alert when someone says, Listen to what happened to me yesterday.
Another problem with terminology is that my so-called stories could fall into so many categories. I don’t want to have to stop and think, Today I wrote a philosophical meditation, or, Today I wrote an anecdote. Today I wrote a vignette. Today I wrote an epi . . . what is it, an epigram or an epigraph? I always forget. The point is, I don’t want that kind of worry.
What about your stories in the form of letters? Did you actually send
these letters?
Yes. These I will categorize—as letters of complaint. They started with “Letter to a Funeral Parlor,” complaining about the word cremains. It’s a horrible word, combining cremated and remains. Only people in the funeral-parlor business like it. I don’t think any grieving families like cremains. I started it as a serious letter and then I saw the humorous possibilities. Then it got too literary to send, but after a while I thought I would still like to send it. So I revised it back down to a more serious letter of complaint, and I did send it. They didn’t answer. Other letters of complaint followed, because I realized that I had a lot to complain about. […]

Lydia Davis, intervistata da the Paris Review, primavera 2015

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