The International Women’s Day (IWD) strike was, according to the organizers’ platform, “by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer and trans women.” Nowhere do we understand the variances of those voices better than in short story collections by women, who finally have the ability to put a voice to their story.
Every March 8, IWD provides a necessary moment for re-imagining the world for women and others. As to the rest of the year: Many women who write short stories have long been involved in the hard work of re-crafting the possible as short stories were long a space of women’s work. Beginning in the world of folktales, stories have, in practice, become a sandbox for formal, stylistic, and ideational experimentation.
Women writers — from Mahasweta Devi (India) to Octavia Butler (US, outer space) to Irenosen Okojie (Nigeria, UK) to Malika Moustadraf (Morocco) to Rasha Abbas (Syria, Germany) — have re-imagined life and literature through the limits and possibilities of the short form. Women’s short-story writing has, unfortunately, not found as firm a footing in translation as have other forms. Malika Moustadraf and Rasha Abbas, for instance, have yet to see full collections in English.
Yet there are many short-story gems for readers who want to break loose from the ordinary.
1) Nnedi Okorafor, Kabu Kabu
Okorafor is a genius of reinvention, seeming to slough off imaginary worlds like dead skin. Her short-story worlds are breakneck mini-creations, little labs where it feels as though she tests out ideas she then folds into her novels.
2) Irenosen Okojie, Speak Gigantular
Okojie’s short stories crisscross the globe, inventing new worlds, new pathways, new relationships. They are crammed full, sometimes standing language on its head, sometimes pushing it over a cliff to see the shower of words come down.
3) Randa Jarrar, Him Me Muhammad Ali
Jarrar’s short works are also wide-ranging, moving between realism and surrealism, Detroit and Palestine and Egypt, love and cruelty.
4) Octavia Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories
If we’re going to talk about reinventing race, gender, national identity, and humanity, then we’ve got to talk about the US’s premiere SF author: Octavia Butler. A relentless re-imaginer of worlds.
5) Assia Djebar, Women of Algiers in Their Apartments, edited by Assia Djebar. Translated by Marjolijn de Jager and Clarisse Zimra
Frequently mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature before her death, Djebar’s work re-imagined Algerian women’s lives during and after French colonial rule.
Devi’s works manage to balance the grittiness of real women’s lives with formal and stylistic invention, terrifying and uncomfortable and brilliant.
7) Yōko Ogawa, Revenge, translated by Stephen Snyder
This Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-shortlisted collection is quiet but relentless, violent and kind.
8) Mai al-Nakib, The Hidden Light of Objects
This collection, set in Kuwait, threads through Anglophone, Arab, and Japanese fictional influences, moving between folktales and slick modern stories in painting a picture of twentieth and twenty-first-century Kuwait.
9) Mia Alvar, In the Country
This multi-award-winning collection also moves around the globe, from the Philippines to the Filipino diaspora in the Gulf and the US.
10) Helen Oyoyemi, What is Not Yours is Not Yours
Misdirection, fantasy, secret spaces, and mythology embroider Oyoyemi’s award-winning collection.
11) Zoe Wicomb, You Never Get Lost in Cape Town
You know when someone adds a #11 it’s because they just couldn’t leave off mentioning a banality-stripping, power-inverting, uncompromising collection from South African writer Zoe Wicomb.
Bonus: four Arabic-language stories in translation.
Syrian author Rasha Abbas’s “The Gist of It,” trans. Alice Guthrie
Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh’s “God, It’s as Though You’re Sewing a Dress For a Flea,” trans. Randa Jarrar
Palestinian author Adania Shibli’s “Silence,” trans. Randa Jarrar
Tunisian author Rachida al-Charni’s “The Way to Poppy Street,” trans. iers Amodia
What do you think are the best short story collections by women?
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