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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Less is more in Cyberland or whatever happened to minimalism?

I remember when minimalism came in with Ray Carver during the eighties. We were all trying to find our way in fiction writing and then came this guy who literally didn't put words on the page. His stories seemed so spare they might blow away. Growing up on Hemingway you thought you had met the master of less is more until Ray Carver blew into town and set the bar so high nobody could hit it but Ray. Publishers wanted this new spare fiction, but there was only room for so many people of few few words then and only so many slots for writers of shortstories.

Now we are in a much different age. The writer in the cyberage has to find his way through a labyrinth of blogging, stories, essays, novels with no clear road to follow. In Ray Carvers time it was a standard track of publishing in the little University magazines then move up to the big dogs then publish a book. Fortunately for Ray, Esquire put him on the map and he was able to fulfill his dream of selling minimalist stories to a mass audience.

But that was a different time. Ray never used a computer. He never had a cellphone. He used a typewriter and so he might have well been the last big foot author before the digital age descended. In the world of the Internet more is more. More blogs. More posts. More websites. More bookmarks. More platforms. The modern author has to put out more more more to even be heard. Ray put out more also. He was constantly submitting via snail mail. He would wait months even years for a response all the while whittling his prose down further and further..Then his editor, Gordon Lish, got hold of his stories and whittled them to a nub.

The big age of the short story is gone and so is minimalism. Authors tend to be more expansive now and there are few masters of the short story on the bestseller lists. If any. The modern novel might even be moving toward a more polyglot form with bits of this and that stitched together in a sort of sampling. Modern readers are used to getting more more more from this plethora of digital information and we keep finding new ways to give more. But there is a bit of Carver tech out there and it came in a very small tweet.

One hundred and forty characters for a tweet. This would even challenge old Ray. Twitter might be the ultimate less is more. These short staccato bursts of information fit the digital brain just fine. And people are finding ways to pack up those tweets with mini-links and short loaded words. So while minimalism is mostly in the dustbin of literary history, Ray really did get the last laugh. For sure he would have tweeted us a few short short stories at one hundred and forty characters a pop. Then Gordon Lish would have cut it to seventy.

William Hazelgrove is the Hemingway writer in residence for the Ernest Hemingway Foundation. He has written four novels, reviews and features for USA TODAY and been the subject of stories in the NY Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and NPR'S All Things Considered. His forthcoming novel is Rocket Man. More information can be gathered at

Books by William Hazelgrove