Tuesday, February 15, 2011


by Hannah Sternberg

I've recently been in the habit of reading poetry on the Metro. My commute is about twenty minutes of training bracketed by ten-minute walks. The first walk jogs my brain awake; the second walk I usually spend running into things while furiously scanning my BlackBerry to discover what I'm already missing at work; and the Metro ride in between is a brief moment of every day when I cannot walk, and am cut off from all cell signals--I have no choice but to read. Not that I would choose anything else for that moment.

At work, I'm immured in policy papers and current affairs books. At home in the evening, I play a desperate game of catch-up among piles of history books ("I always wanted to know more about that..."). But the Metro ride, I've turned into a moment of reflection, a brief pause on information-gathering just as it's a brief pause on walking and telecommunication. It started with the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters; I determined to read it through, as I'd promised I'd lend it to a friend when I was done. Now Walt Whitman soothes my longing for lilacs. Maybe this spring will bring the antidote to my frequent complaint, "I wish I'd read more Keats..."

It also made me realize that ePublishing is a unique opportunity to bring out new works in shorter formats, whether they're poems, short stories or novellas. The little guys often get short shrift in the publishing world. Poetry has been consigned to the university presses and back corners of bookstores, and short stories are often anthologized generically, with successful single-author collections only issuing from previously well-known writers of full-length novels. Novellas are rare; I secretly suspect publishers think people will feel ripped off if they pay trade paperback prices for a tiny book.

Short works are among my major inspirations as a writer. The poetry of E E Cummings floated me through the first draft of my first novel. More recently, the short stories of John Cheever and the novellas of J. D. Salinger electrify my imagination and my intellect. There's nothing small about the content of these small works. But would they have been published today, outside of the most academically pretentious presses, those that see the value of a work in its uniqueness of form, rather than its beauty, power or insight? Would today's publishers have turned them away on the basis of length alone? There's no way of knowing, but when's the last time you saw a new novella on the table at the front of the bookstore?

At Istoria, I hope to seek out new examples of the beauty, storytelling and insight possible in short forms, especially the novella, the prose poem and the story collection. If you're querying a work of this kind, be sure to follow our submission guidelines, but feel free to put "Attn Hannah" in the subject line if you think it's a work I'd be particularly interested in. I look forward to exploring your short fiction offerings!

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