Writer Reynolds Price claims that story is a fundamental human need—next to food and shelter, we need stories; even love, he says, we can live without, but not narrative.
The opening sentence in the curriculum description of the 12th grade elective class, Short Story, explains what makes it so appealing to writers. Taught by Asha Appel, Director of Faculty Growth and Development and member of the English Department, the class invites students to explore what makes stories so powerful, both as readers and as writers.
The students are committing themselves to an intensive writing endeavor. “Over the course of the semester, the students write an enormous amount,” said Appel. “Their cornerstone pieces are two publishable stories that go through extensive revision and workshopping—a model employed at the college level.”
Appel encourages her writers to look for inspiration for their stories by exploring “Cloud Questions.”
“These are the BIG questions (to which there aren’t any answers) that all humans ask and that books and art tackle. Identifying the Cloud Questions you want to explore as a writer (Do I fit in? Will I be OK? Will others accept me? Who am I? How do I manage pain?) put you in conversation with both your characters AND your readers,” said Appel.
The Short Story class recently held a coffeehouse-type event where they read excerpts from the final drafts of their works. The students who read (all seniors) were Stella B., Hunter B., Edward B., Zoe B., Mathilde C., Rand F., Yasmin I., Ava K, Maho M., Sophia R., Mattea R., and Benley V. The topics of their stories ranged from childhood memories and family relationships to death and even ghosts.
For this article, several students shared what inspired them about the class:
“I didn't realize how much I really needed this class. Asha is one of those people who just brings you face-to-face with the questions you need to talk about as a teenager and then shows you the medium to explore them: stories. I'm never going to read a story or sit with these specific thirteen people the same way again. Each story, including the ones we wrote, goes in search of a possible answer to a question so deep and raw that it's unanswerable, but that's what makes them (stories) so fundamental to growing up, or really, any part of your journey. I can't emphasize enough the doors that Short Story opened for me …If I stop writing, I would have stopped digging into answers to the questions that will, sooner or later, shape who I am.”
-Sophia R. ’24
“My inspiration for this piece came from my love of reading stories that include ‘supernatural’ events, but also have some sort of dark twist as the main plot. I wanted to show the idea of a story that starts off feeling normal-ish, and eventually near the end you find out that nothing at all is normal, either about the main character or the place the story takes place in. I also enjoy adding in some sort of comedic effect to my stories just to lighten the mood a bit.”
-Hunter B. ’24
“My experience in Short Story was a lot of fun. The class was fairly small, so we grew comfortable with each other and had some great conversations. The coffeehouse in particular was really nice because we had read each other's first drafts but hadn't seen the final yet. It was awesome that some people read pieces of the final draft, because we all got to listen to it together and hear the parts of the stories that were changed. My story was about a woman whose last kid just went to college, and she is feeling like she doesn't have a purpose anymore. It was interesting to explore this concept and to really create the character's life and help her find purpose through art and connection.
-Mattea R .’24
“I don't think I have enjoyed a writing class as much as this one. I learned how to break down the elements that went into a good story, and use ideas from other works to get started on my own. I'm definitely going to miss this group.”
-Yasmin I. ’24
Several students from the Short Story class placed in the 2024 Echoes Writing Contest, the winners of which were announced yesterday. Finalists in the Fiction category included Yasmin I. and Hunter B., and the winner was Ava K. with her story, “Emery Boards.”