Lydia Davis on Wikipedia

Lydia Davis is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent of which was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She is the acclaimed translator of a new edition of Swann’s Way and is at work on a new translation of Madame Bovary

Short Story Collections

Collected Stories
(Farrer, Straus and Giroux, 2009)

reviewed by Tania Hershman

The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976)

Story, and Other Stories (1983)

Break it Down

Almost No Memory

Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001)

varieties of Disturbance

Interview with Lydia Davis

Collected Stories is made up of the stories from four of your published collections. When did you start writing short stories and how did your first book get published?

Lydia Davis:  It actually consists of all the stories in all four volumes, in their original order. I started writing short stories in college. They were more traditional at that time. The earliest I would dare publish appeared a year or two ago online. It's called Ways, and I wrote it when I was nineteen. My first book was a slim volume of stories called The 13th Woman and Other Stories. It was published by two friends of mine when I was 29, as a book issue of their literary magazine, which was called Living Hand.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

LD: No, I never really thought ahead. It was hard enough just to write one story--sometimes a story would take me two years to finish. I still work that way--concentrate on each story and then after a while gather them together to see if I have enough for a collection.

TSR: Looking back over all these stories, do you see anything about your own writing that you hadn't seen before?

LD: I actually avoid looking back and making any kind of appraisal of my work. I concentrate on going forward. Reviewers do sometimes find common features in the work, but often enough they find different common features...

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

LD: By now, for me, the word has been stretched to fit all sorts of different kinds of writing. I usually think a story has to have at least a shred of narrative in it, or a narrative a reader can imagine on the basis of a few words. Some of my "stories" may be closer to meditations or prose poems than to the traditional story, but I don't want to begin giving each work a different label.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

LD: I have by now incorporated or internalized the ideal reader, I think. And that ideal reader is rather like me, and will enjoy what I enjoy, about the stories. But in fact every reader comes away with different things, from a story, and often has a different interpretation of it, as well. I like hearing those different reactions.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

LD: I'm always interested to hear which stories were particularly striking or meaningful to a reader. The answer is never predictable.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

LD: It feels very good, of course--though I'm just happy that people are reading at all, these days! When I travel, I always count up how many people sitting near me are reading an actual book made out of paper, for example.

TSR: What are you working on now?

LD: I'm just finishing putting in order the photos for a little book about the cows that live across the road from me. Then I will be going on to some work in history--a first for me.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

LD: Let's see--the very latest one was In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders, very funny and disturbing. The one before that was Angel's Laundromat, by Lucia Berlin, a writer of short stories in the vein of Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley and Alice Munro who should be much better known than she is. And before that, a collection of very good short-shorts--small realistic narratives-- by J. Robert Lennon called Pieces for the Left Hand.
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>

Other Interviews:

NYS Writers Institute
FSG Reading Series

The Believer
Three Monkeys
Bomb Magazine
The Rumpus