Number 13: Unbraiding the Short Story

By Sabrina Völz

Regardless of the field, conferences come in all shapes and sizes. Some are forgotten quickly while others become engraved in one’s memory. The latter experiences are sometimes few and far between. The biennial International Short Story Conference in English – which brings together scholars, writers, and those in the publishing industry – might just fit the bill. This year’s conference was lucky number 13 and took place in Vienna from July 16-19.  It was a place to discover young, talented voices, interact with established authors, and hear scholarly papers from colleagues all over the globe. I especially appreciated the anthology, Unbrading the short story, which allowed conference participants to familiarize themselves with 69 stories by writers-in-residence (ISBN: 13: 978-1497593992). This helped immensly with the selection of panels. Apart from listening to panel discussions, doing interviews, and participating in creative writing workshops with authors, for me, it was again a place to renew my first love: the short story.

The first international short story conference I attended was back in 2004. Apart from some thought-provoking scholarship, I fondly remember sitting in a room with a lesser known ‘new southern’ author at that time – Z.Z. Packer. After hearing the first few words of “Every Tongue Shall Confess,” I knew she would be a force to be reckoned with. At € 300, the conference is somewhat pricey but where else can one meet Margaret Atwood, Sandra Cisneros, and Bharati Mukherjee all in the same place? Their readings were certainly the highlights of the 2010 conference in Toronto.

After past journeys to Spain and Canada, this year’s conference was closer to home. As a card-carrying repeat offender, I hope to meet you at the next conference in Shanghai, China. Highlights of the Vienna conference were the panel on Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro, as well as the the final reading given by the quintessential quartet of empowering women writers: Bharati Mukherjee, Claire Larrière, Velma Pollard, and Sandra Cisneros.  And, in the end, we topped it all off with a slice of Sachertorte.