The Great American Short Story

Judy Budnitz ’95 hated Expos. “I think my Expos teacher hated me, too,” she adds. But despite the trauma of

Judy Budnitz ’95 hated Expos. “I think my Expos teacher hated me, too,” she adds. But despite the trauma of that allegedly instructional experience—and a half-dozen creative writing classes later—Budnitz realized she was cut out to be a author. The 20-odd short stories that made up her senior thesis formed the bulk of Budnitz’s first published collection, entitled Flying Leap. Reid Professor of English and American Literature Philip J. Fisher was one of the oral examiners of Budnitz’s thesis and this year decided to add “Dog Days,” a short story she wrote at the age of 19, to the syllabus of English 178x, “The American Novel from Dreiser to the End of the Century.”

“It seemed to me, along with 30 other stories of hers, to have complete freshness of mood and novelty in combination of tones and levels of reality,” Fisher says. Budnitz says many professors like Fisher use her stories as examples for young writers. “I hope that by including a set of stories by younger writers, I can put in front of students some of the kinds of work they might find interesting in their own generation,” Fisher says. Budnitz’s surrealistic story contrasts with Fisher regulars like the daunting Faulkner and terse Hemingway.

Budnitz has always had a sharp wit. She drew cartoons for The Crimson and the Lampoon—“for a long time, I thought I wanted to be a political cartoonist,” she says—poking fun at everything from pompous professors to foul-tasting dining hall food. One 1993 drawing depicts a little girl sheepishly approaching a group of three schoolboys. “Can I play?” she asks. “Yes! No! Maybe!” they reply. “Come back next year.” One of the boys holds a sign that reads “The Fly Club.”

“Dog Days” is not so lighthearted. Somewhere between peace and war, its characters lead a strange and lonely existence. With no electricity, food, water, jobs or neighbors, a family of five waits for a vaguely discussed upcoming war, and in the meantime searches for comfort in everything from the newspaper to a man dressed up as a giant dog.

Readers often assume Budnitz’s bizarre stories come from the dark recesses of her mind, but she says most of her inspiration comes from reading the newspaper and watching people walk around in New York City. “People are always saying, ‘Your stories are so crazy,’” Budnitz says, “but I always feel like nothing I write is as crazy as what is happening in the world.”