I love a fat, juicy novel, but I’m not sure there’s a form of creative writing I respect more than the short story. Perhaps that’s because I’m still in awe of how stories work. In graduate school, my first time getting a formal education in the art of fiction, I marveled at the writers in my cohort who specialized in crafting these potent little miracles. These were writers who could sense a whole world and yet exercise the wisdom and restraint, in the final draft, to contain it to its most beautiful and essential details. Who could satisfy the exact amount of whatever I, as the reader, needed to know and then feel about the characters and their lives. The journalist in me had questions (the same questions you’ll likely hear me asking our podcast guests today): Where does one start? How does one end? And what’s the process for getting, with efficiency and emotion, from one pole to the other?
On breaks from finishing the manuscript that would become my first book, I experimented with writing all kinds of short fiction, from flash to a 60-page narrative leaping through decades in a character’s life. And maybe I’m being hard on myself — the pressure on each sentence brought out my most ruthless inner perfectionist — but most of the time the magic I’d experienced as a reader remained elusive. The practice of chasing the magic while writing, though, made me better with each attempt.
“The journalist in me had questions: Where does one start? How does one end? And what’s the process for getting, with efficiency and emotion, from one pole to the other?”
Then the pandemic hit, and short stories grew from a sharpening tool to a lifeline. My focus was shot; I certainly had trouble writing, and those fat, juicy novels I adored sat on the shelf as I doom-scrolled on Twitter and devoured anxiety-triggering news about the coronavirus and the presidential election and anti-Black violence and our sick planet. In the moments I needed to feel connected again to the craft I’d chosen to pursue as a new career, I reached for quick hits that could teach and inspire me. I revisited collections that were old favorites, like ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere and Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light; and cracked open classics I’d never read before, including Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place (marketed as a “novel” but actually linked stories). And in a moment when I was most worried and afraid, when the virus killed my uncle and had me uncertain how many more months or years it would be before I got to hug my mama and daddy again, I picked up The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by my fellow Jacksonville-bred writer Deesha Philyaw, and got teary to feel so many different aspects of home pulsing inside its nine little gems.
That Deesha, one of our most brilliant and community-minded contemporary writers, has joined Ursa as an editor-at-large and cohost of our new podcast is a dream — one of many Mark and I had when we first began discussing what we might build as a new home for all things short fiction. We dreamed of an experience to complement the magic and wonder we’ve found in stories these days, by producing originals and favorites in both audio and illustrated digital formats. We dreamed of working with contemporary masters across genres, as well as new talent we’re excited to discover in the coming months (be on the lookout for our submissions periods!). We dreamed of shining a bright spotlight on voices traditionally underrepresented in publishing. And we dreamed of providing inspiration to writers and readers alike via conversations about craft, the business of publishing, and so much more.
Today, after nearly two years of planning, we’re proud to present our dreams come true. Welcome to Ursa. We’re just getting started, and we can’t wait to hear what you think.
Thanks for reading (and listening)!
Ursa is a new home for short fiction, from some of today’s most thrilling writers, supported by you.
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We’re on a mission to build a new home for audio short fiction, with an emphasis on spotlighting underrepresented voices. You can help fund Season Two of our podcast and get exclusive, ad-free bonus episodes. Join us today: