Category Archives: Literature

5 Flash Fiction Pieces to Celebrate Women’s History Month

By Annie Jonas

In honor of Women’s History Month, I have chosen 5 flash fiction pieces written by, or about, women. These pieces take no more than 5 minutes to read, and are perfect for any spare moments you have throughout your day.

 

  1. Break, by Rabih Alameddine

break
Image Source: Chloe Scheffe, The New Yorker

This piece chronicles the relationship between a sister and a brother who correspond over the course of seven years with just photographs. What is the reason for such a peculiar form of communication, you may ask? The narrator is a trans-woman whose family disowned her upon her transitioning, and threatened her brother not to speak or write to her without consequences. This story is a haunting portrait of the breaking and reparation of family, love, and loneliness.

“He broke first. I received a four-by-six portrait of his son with a slightly bleeding nose, taken hastily, badly lit, likely by a bathroom bulb. On the ten-year-old face, a thread of blood trickled from nose to upper lip, curving an ogee around the corner of the mouth and down the chin. The boy was in no pain; he looked inquisitively at the camera, probably wondering why his father had had the urge to bring it out.

I held my breath for a beat or two or three when I saw the image. On the back of the photograph Mazen had written, ‘I keep seeing you.’”

 

  1. Girl, by Jamaica Kincaid

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Image Source: Jefferson Wheeler

In this laundry list of dos and don’ts, demands, and warnings, Jamaica Kincaid exposes the unembellished realities of growing up as a girl in a patriarchal world. Written in 1978, in the height of the Second Wave feminist movement, Kincaid’s story feels just as personal as it does political. It is not flashy about its brilliance, and yet in its modesty it proves to be a nuanced masterpiece.

“this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know”

 

  1. The Huntress, by Sofia Samatar

huntress

Image Source: Del Samatar

In this sci-fi fast fiction piece, an impossibly large female monster called The Huntress terrorizes the inhabitants of a city below. The narrator is a foreigner to this place and is fatally unprepared for the wrath of The Huntress. This piece weaves together intense sensory imagery with disorienting ambiguity; we, as readers, feel just as on-edge as the narrator.

“The Huntress left dark patches wherever she passed. She left a streak. In the morning, the hotel staff would find me unconscious, gummed to the floor. The proprietor weeping, for nothing like this had ever happened in his establishment, nothing. Had I not read the instructions on the desk?”

 

  1. Housewife, by Amy Hempel

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Image Source: VICE

In this one-sentence story, Amy Hempel humorously captures the pure delight of a cunning, two-timing housewife rejoicing in her latest affair. Hempel relays the sexual freedom and polyamorous nature of a modern-day woman who seeks her own pleasure first, and protocols second.

“She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, ‘French film, French film.’”

 

  1. John Redding Goes to Sea, by Zora Neale Hurston

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Image Source: Fotosearch / Getty Images

Zora Neale Hurston is one of my all-time favorite female novelists as well as an iconic figure in feminist history. Although she is primarily known and celebrated for her novels, her fast-fiction and short stories are equally deserving of praise. In this piece, Hurston masterfully uses dialect to illustrate the story of John Redding, a ten-year-old daydreamer who imagines his backyard stream is a great sea.

“The little brown boy loved to wander down to the water’s edge, and, casting in dry twigs, watch them sail away downstream to Jacksonville, the sea, the wide world and John Redding wanted to follow them.

Sometimes in his dreams he was a prince, riding away in a gorgeous carriage. Often he was a knight bestride a fiery charger prancing down the white shell road that led to distant lands. At other times he was a steamboat captain piloting his craft down the St. John River to where the sky seemed to touch the water. No matter what he dreamed or who he fancied himself to be, he always ended by riding away to the horizon; for in his childish ignorance he thought this to be farthest land.”

For those who feel like they don’t have the time to read a full-fledged novel, or who desire a fast-paced narrative, fast fiction is the way to go. However, do not assume that just because these pieces are short, they are any less than a novel or a lengthier piece. Fast fiction is an important subgenre of literature because it stretches the expectations of what we perceive fiction to be. It teaches us to be creative and really think about the words we are writing. Fast fiction is a lean and efficient form; nothing is arbitrary. It is important that we read works like these so that we, too, may become better readers and writers.

For more fast fiction pieces, check out:

https://flashfictionmagazine.com/

http://www.100wordstory.org/

http://thecollagist.com/

https://everydayfiction.com/

Her Body and Other Parties

Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
Reviewed by Anna Bottrell

Immersing myself in this book took a sharp adjustment of expectations, as at first I almost slipped into mistaking Carmen Maria Machado’s surreal style for a play on the absurd, a beautiful and precise craft where the meaning lies more in the sensation of the sentences than in their larger sum. However, almost violently, at the end of every story a clear vision sets itself into place. Additionally, the stories build throughout the book with their shared theme: women’s bodies. Who has them, who wants them, and what is it like to live in such prime real estate?

The stories cover topics such as dehumanization, objectification, sexual assault, queer and lesbian relationships, and body shame.

Instead of writing women’s experiences through dialogue, Machado paints a vivid portrait with her imaginative descriptions of a world that seems inside out. Its beating heart lies in scenery. Significance is revealed through physical manifestations, and so the body and mind express themselves as one — open to the senses for observation.

It struck me as interesting that few of these stories have an exact setting, in time or in space. They seem to emanate from an archive of common culture, rather than from the manifest world. The stories take familiar elements and setups, and they bind them into Machado’s psychologically thrilling surrealism. However, this borrowing does not make them predictable. When Machado manipulates a familiar scenario, she makes it her own. She does this with a folktale in her story “The Husband Stitch”, post-apocalyptic survival in “Inventory’, and even Law & Order: SVU in “Especially Heinous”. Machado’s voice feels like something that is filling gaps in perspective, something that was always necessary to add.

After reading Her Body and Other Parties , I can re-examine the bits and pieces of common culture that Maghado wove into her stories. As they were untouched, they seem off. Stale, surface level. When Machado writes, she sees her subject matter with a sense of refreshing clarity. A folktale I heard in my childhood may appear to me through her warped vision with a new grain of truth, and suddenly feel urgent and contemporary. It may suddenly feel important.

This book is important. Machado appears to agree. She writes as if to say, “This is the world underneath your world, the world you’ve been told to ignore; but, it exists”.

She drives this point home in the book’s first passage, with a wake-up slap of reverse psychology:

(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices:
Me: as a child, high-pitched, forgettable; as a woman, the same.
The boy who will grow into a man, and be my spouse: robust with serendipity.

My father: kind, booming; like your father, or the man you wish was your father.
My son: as a small child, gentle, sounding with the faintest of lisps; as a man, like my husband. All other women: interchangeable with my own.)

She has my attention.

See this post in the Clarion magazine as well at bu.edu/clarion

Un espacio en Australia

by Caroline Brantley

This past October, I wrote a short, contemporary scene inspired by “La casa de Bernarda Alba” by Federico García Lorca, a Spanish playwright and poet assassinated during the Spanish Civil War for being gay. My scene sought to relate these events and the uphill battle of the LGBTQIA+ community to Australia’s current nationwide postal survey for marriage equality. By November 15, 80% of Australian voters submitted their postal surveys, with 62% voting in favor of marriage equality. This past Thursday, the Australian Parliament officially accepted the postal survey’s success and voted overwhelming in favor of legalizing same sex marriage across the country (!!).

In celebration of how far the LGBTQIA+ community has come and in recognition of the barriers we still have to tackle, I present the scene I wrote (in Spanish and English) a couple months back. Here’s to Lorca and all those who have risked or sacrificed their lives so that others may now live with pride.

Un espacio en Australia

Todos los papeles de esta obra (Bernarda, Adela, Angustias, Martirio, Pepe) reflejan los papeles originales de “La casa de Bernarda Alba” por Federico García Lorca.

Arriba el telón para una casa en un suburbio conservador de Perth, Australia, 2017. En Australia, hay una encuesta postal este mes sobre la legalización del matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo. Esta escena específicamente está en un cuarto oscuro que es tranquilo y vacío con la excepción de ADELA. ADELA se sienta en una silla en el medio del cuarto, escribiendo en la computadora portátil con una cara de consideración y estrés. La única luz es de la computadora, y brilla en la cara de ella.

(Entra BERNARDA, encendiendo una lámpara)

ADELA: (suspiro)

BERNARDA: (severamente) ¡Adela! ¿Por qué no estás durmiendo? Es muy tarde y no quiero ver que estás cansada mañana durante la cena para Angustias y Pepe.

ADELA: Estoy cansada, pero no puedo dormir. Necesito el espacio para pensar.

BERNARDA: ¡Eres demasiado dramática! Duerme porque nosotras vamos a tener un problema mañana si tu estás de mal humor. Es la cena antes del matrimonio de Pepe y tu hermana; es un día feliz y no me gustan ánimos malos.

ADELA: (con vacilación) Mamá, tengo algo que necesito decirte.

BERNARDA: No estás feliz por Angustias.

ADELA: ¡Qué!. . . No, mamá. Yo—buenas noches.

BERNARDA: (escéptica) Igualmente.

(Cierra la portátil. Se apaga la luz.)

El día siguiente en una cena antes del matrimonio entre ANGUSTIAS y PEPE. La atmósfera es alegre mientras la familia de Angustias y los invitados hablan sobre chismes y nuevas cosas de la comunidad.

MUJER: Ay, Bernarda, ¡es una fiesta muy grande! Y yo sé que Angustias estará bonita mañana cuando ella se casará con Pepe. Pues, ¡claro! Todas tus hijas son hermosas. No tendrán problemas para encontrar un esposo.

BERNARDA: ¡Por supuesto, no! Pero mis hijas piensan que es una idea anticuada, especialmente Martirio y Adela. Ellas no quieren novios ahora—a veces son demasiado liberales y modernas para mí.

ADELA: (un poco amarga) Martirio no es liberal. . .

MARTIRIO: Sí, estoy de acuerdo con ella. Es una idea loca.

MUJER: Bien, Martirio, si no tienes un novio, ¿Qué te gusta hacer? ¿Trabajas?

BERNARDA: Sí, Martirio ha estado trabajando para la campaña de “No” contra la loca encuesta postal. ¿Pueden creer que las personas quieran implementar la habilidad para la gente homosexual para casarse?

MARTIRIO: No es “un derecho”, es horrible. Quieren terminar la importancia del matrimonio.

ADELA: Voy a tomar una bebida.

(MARTIRIO sigue a ADELA)

MARTIRIO: (tranquilamente) Flaca—fue una noche muy tarde.

ADELA: (con sorpresa) ¿Qué?

MARTIRIO: ¿Estabas hablando por teléfono a las cuatro?

ADELA: No es importante para ti.

MARTIRIO: Dime con quien te hablaste anoche.

ADELA: Vete.

MARTIRIO: (pausa) Con una chica. (ADELA mira a MARTIRIO, están enojadas) Eres homosexual.

ADELA: Y tú eres homofóbica. Mi cuerpo y mi vida me pertenecen, y no hay nada que puedas hacer. ¡No es el lugar para crear una escena, pero yo sé que tú quieres atención!

MARTIRIO: (Mas ruidosa) Cállate. Cuando le diga a Mamá—

ADELA: ¿Por qué necesitas decir a madre? ¿Porque no tienes nada interesante en tu vida? Si estás tratando a arruinar el día con mi sexualidad—

MARTIRIO: Pues, si ninguna de nosotras tenemos un novio en el matrimonio de nuestra hermana, al menos mi amor por hombres es auténtico. Va a ser muy interesante—cuando yo le diga a madre sobre tu secreto y tu “novia”.

(Llega ANGUSTIAS con BERNARDA)

ANGUSTIAS: ¡Están ruidosas! Dime el chisme.

ADELA: No es chisme.

BERNARDA: No tengo tiempo para sus problemas.

MARTIRIO: Es solo el problema de Adela. Mi hermana loca tiene a correr a Nueva Zelanda para casarse, y todavía ella no sería normal.

ANGUSTIAS: ¡Martirio!

ADELA: ¡Basta! Mi sexualidad no es vergüenza. No debería una cuestión política. Ustedes me tratan como una enfermedad, pero pronto puedo casarse en Australia. Y, Martirio todavía sería soltera porque ella siempre pone su nariz en los asuntos de otros. (ANGUSTIAS empieza a llorar, BERNARDA está enojada) Y madre, mamá . . . he tratado a decirte, iba decirte, pero era demasiado—

Bernarda: Basta.

Corta el escenario a negro.

La escena final: un cuarto oscuro. Tranquilo y vacío con la excepción de BERNARDA, quien se siente en una silla al lado de un escritorio. ANGUSTIAS entra.

ANGUSTIAS: (con hesitación) Son las dos en punto.

BERNARDA: Sí. Deberías dormir. Necesito pensar.

ANGUSTIAS: Pienso sobre ti, mamá. Estoy preocupa por ti.

BERNARDA: Estoy bien—es cierto. Y te quiero una montaña, y necesitas volver a Pepe.

(ANGUSTIAS sale)

BERNARDA: (murmurando) Es cierto que amo a todas mis hijas. (Completando la encuesta postal sobre apoyo para el matrimonio homosexual de Australia y sellando el sobre) Sí, Adela.

Fin.

A Space in Australia

All the roles in this work (Bernarda, Adela, Angustias, Martirio, Pepe) reflect the original roles from “The House of Bernarda Alba” by Federico García Lorca.

 

Curtain up to a house in a conservative suburb of Perth, Australia, 2017. In Australia, there is a postal survey this month about the legalization of same sex marriage. This specific scene is in a dark room that is quiet and empty with the exception of ADELA. ADELA sits in a chair in the middle of the room, writing on her laptop with a face of consideration and stress. The only light is from the computer, and it shines in her face.

 

 

 

ADELA: (sighs)

BERNARDA: (severely) Adela! Why aren’t you sleeping? It is very late and I don’t want to see you tired tomorrow during Angustias and Pepe’s dinner.

ADELA: I am tired, but I can’t sleep. I need space to think.

BERNARDA: You are too dramatic! Sleep, because we are going to have a problem tomorrow if you are moody. It is the dinner before Pepe and your sister’s wedding; it is a happy day, and I don’t like bad spirits.

ADELA: (hesitantly) Mamá, I have something that I need to tell you.

BERNARDA: You are not happy for Angustias.

ADELA: What! . . . No, mamá. I—good night.

BERNARDA: (skeptically) Same to you.

(ADELA closes the laptop. She turns off the light.)

The next day at the dinner before the marriage of ANGUSTIAS and PEPE. The atmosphere is happy while Angustias’ family and guests talk about gossip and new things for the community.

MUJER: Ay, Bernarda, what a big party! And I know that Angustias will be pretty tomorrow when she marries Pepe. But, of course! All your daughters are beautiful. They will not have any problems finding a husband.

BERNARDA: Of course not! But, my daughters think that this is an outdated idea, especially Martirio and Adela. They don’t want boyfriends now—sometimes they are too liberal and modern for me.

ADELA: (a bit bitterly) Martirio is not liberal. . .

MARTIRIO: Yeah, I agree with her. That is a crazy idea.

MUJER: Well, Martirio, if you don’t have a boyfriend, what do you like to do? Do you work?

BERNARDA: Yes, Martirio has been working for the “No” campaign against the crazy postal survey. Can you all believe that people want to implement the ability for homosexual people to marry?

MARTIRIO: It is not “a right”; it’s horrible. They want to end the importance of marriage.

ADELA: I’m going to get a drink.

(MARTIRIO follows ADELA)

MARTIRIO: (Calmly) Flaca (skinny girl)—It was a very late night.

ADELA: (surprised) What?

 

MARTIRIO: Were you talking on the phone at four?

ADELA: It’s not important to you.

MARTIRIO: Tell me whom you were talking to last night.

ADELA: Go away.

MARTIRIO: (pause) With a girl. (ADELA looks at MARTIRIO, they are mad) You are a lesbian.

ADELA: And you are homophobic. My body and my life belong to me, and there is nothing that you can do. It is not the place to create a scene, but I know that you want attention!

MARTIRIO: (louder) Shut up. When I tell Mamá—

 

ADELA: Why do you need to tell our mother? Because you do not have anything interesting in your life? If you are trying to ruin the day with my sexuality—

MARTIRIO: Well, if none of us have a boyfriend at our sister’s wedding, at least my love for men is authentic. It is going to be very interesting—when I tell our mother about your secret and your “girlfriend”.

 

(ANGUSTIAS arrives with BERNARDA)

ANGUSTIAS: ¡You are so loud! Tell me the gossip.

ADELA: It’s not gossip.

BERNARDA: I don’t have time for your problems.

MARTIRIO: It is only Adela’s problem. My crazy sister has to run away to New Zealand to get married, and she still would not be normal.

ANGUSTIAS: Martirio!

ADELA: Enough! My sexuality is not shameful. It should not be a political question. You treat me like an illness, but soon I will be able to marry in Australia. And, Martirio still will be single because she always puts her nose in other people’s business. (ANGUSTIAS starts to cry, BERNARDA is mad) And mother, mamá . . . I had tried to tell you, I was going to tell you, but it was too much—

Bernarda: Enough.

Cut the scene to black.

The final scene: a dark room. It is quiet and empty with the exception of BERNARDA, who sits in a chair next to a desk. ANGUSTIAS enters.

 

ANGUSTIAS: (hesitantly) It is two o’clock.

BERNARDA: Yes. You should sleep. I need to think.

ANGUSTIAS: I think about you, mamá. I worry about you.

BERNARDA: I am fine—truly. And I love you a lot, and you need to return to Pepe.

(ANGUSTIAS leaves)

BERNARDA: (murmuring) It is true that I love all my daughters. (Completing the postal survey about support for marriage equality in Australia and sealing the envelope). Yes, Adela.

End.

Boston Marriage: Historical (Ace) Lesbians

By Kylie McCuiston

I was first introduced to the term “Boston Marriage” in my first-year English class, Gender and Sexuality in Nineteenth Century Literature, when we were reading a short story titled “Two Friends” by Mary E Wilkins Freeman. It was a story about two women who lived together their entire lives independent of any male support. The two were clearly more than friends, but due to the constricting nature of the time period, their romance was only hinted at through veiled descriptions and the story ended with one of them dying (playing in, no doubt, to the “bury your gays” trope).

While this story sounds radical for the time period, it was common enough to merit a term for it. The term “Boston Marriage” derives from Henry James’ book The Bostonians, which was the first account that described this sort of phenomenon that was occurring. Usually the two women that lived together did so out of a mutual benefit, so that they could pool their assets together and live the lives they wanted to live without the limitation that would be placed on them if they were to enter in to a traditional marriage.

Though this term was in use during the nineteenth century, it was meant only to convey the fact that the women were living together, not necessarily that they were lovers, which is why this type of arrangement was accepted with little criticism. Looking back, historians can make conjectures as to whether some of these Boston Marriages were sexual or romantic in nature but we can never be certain. It would be remiss to dismiss them all as platonic however. While some were most likely sexual in nature, some were also simply romantic in nature and could be described as a form of asexuality back then.

Mary E Wilkins Freeman based most of her stories off of personal experiences and was herself in a Boston marriage with a woman named Mary Wales. The two lived together for almost two decades. Within this climate, Mary E Wilkins Freeman was able to write and publish freely and became a successful, independent author. Her disdain for traditional marriage is mirrored in another feminist short story of hers titled “A New England Nun” which tells about a woman who refuses to marry because she is content to live entirely independent for the rest of her life.

Whether or not the women in these Boston Marriages were lesbian or not, they at least demanded an early form of independence that we do not typically associate with the nineteenth century women. Many were independent writers and artists with their own flourishing careers and like Mary E Wilkins Freeman, made works that mirrored this independence.