In July 2021, Susan Choi was awarded the 2021 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award for her story ‘Flashlight’. In 2020, the U.S.-based Story Prize was awarded to Edwidge Danticat for the second time since 2004, out of a shortlist consisting entirely of women with migrant backgrounds, including Zadie Smith and Kali Fajardo-Anstine. That same year, Souvankham Thammavongsa won the Canadian Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife, and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection was delivered to Mimi Lok (four out of the five finalists were migrant women).
These awards, and the recent buzz around Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties (2021), are indicative of the growing recognition of the wider cultural contributions of migrants to the short story in English. As I argue in my forthcoming book (tentatively entitled Migrant Women Writers and the Habitable Short Story in North America Since 1980), with the rare exception of authors such as Jhumpa Lahiri, migrant short story writers are very rarely represented in anthologies and short story theory. The focus tends to be on white, ‘unmarked’ writers, people who ‘belong’ to the ethno-racial and cultural understanding of the nation, people whose identities and stories fit the narrative requirements of the Western nation and literary canons. The Best American Short Stories yearly anthologies, for instance, have since 1978 only been guest edited by four migrant writers: Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, Junot Díaz and Roxane Gay. In this regard, the Personal Anthology website is much more inclusive and international in scope.
For this personal anthology, I am bringing forward a selection of stories by migrant women writers which I particularly enjoyed. I came to the short story through migration. I grew up bilingual in a French-British family, and was an avid novel reader until I spent a year abroad at a liberal arts university in upstate New York as part of my MA. After years of having been taught at school in France that short stories were defined not only by their brevity, but by their O. Henry-style surprise ending or climax, I discovered the joys of the open-ended and unresolved fragment. From Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991) and Junot Díaz’s Drown (1996), which I first encountered in a class on Latinx literature in the U.S., to all the subsequent collections and anthologies I read, I found myself falling in love with the form. As Tim Pears puts it, while “the novel was invented by and for a settled, sedentary society”, “with a short story we sneak across the border to steal what we can, return at dawn with images that tell more than we’d realised” – a reading experience which encapsulates and replicates some of the instability and precariousness of migration.