Ever wish your English prof would cut down on that dreaded work load?
Reid Professor of English and American Literature Philip J. Fisher did just that last month: in a competition inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famous short story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” students in his class, “English 178x: The American Novel: Dreiser to the Present” were allowed exactly six words to write a story—plot, characters, conclusion, and all.
The competition, proposed by a student in the class, mimicked a similar online contest held by Wired magazine this fall. According to Joshua D. Rothman, a TF for Fisher’s course, the entries on Wired were not up to Harvard standards.
“They’re all really, really bad,” Rothman says. “They are more like one-liners than actual stories.”
While Fisher’s students will hopefully fare better, writing a six word story is harder than one might imagine.
“It requires the ultimate efficiency of words,” says Kevin P. Seitz ’10, who planned on submitting an entry. “I have a lot of ideas. It’s easy to tell which ones are bad, but it’s hard to know if any are good.”
Seitz would not reveal much about the progress of his magnum opus, but he said he noticed a trend in his ideas. “I find myself straying toward something really morbid,” he says. “I’ll probably end up painting some sort of death.”
The stories were due before Thanksgiving, and according to Rothman, a winner will be declared by winter break.
And how will the winner be rewarded? According to Seitz, Fisher has promised a “Hemingway appropriate” prize. Maybe it will be a story of Fisher’s own: “You get an A, Mr. Seitz.”