15 May 2023 at 4:36:57 am
Lecturer (Language and Communication Centre)
Nanyang Technological University
Dr Prasanthi Ram is a full-time academic writing lecturer at Nanyang Technological University, where she completed her PhD in creative writing. Her short stories can be found in a variety of publications including Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Five (Epigram Books: 2021), and her personal essays can be found in What We Inherit: Growing Up Indian (AWARE: 2022) as well as Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore (Ethos Books: 2021). She is also the co-founder and fiction editor of Mahogany Journal. Her debut short story cycle Nine Yard Sarees will be published by Ethos Books later this year.
The short story cycle as a utopian home for literary representations of family: a review of practice-led research
Short story cycle, Novel, Representations of family, Diaspora
The short story cycle is a lesser-known form that is often miscategorised as a short story collection or even a novel. In the pioneering text Representative Short Story Cycles of the Twentieth Century: Studies in a Literary Genre (1967), Forrest Leo Ingram writes that the short story cycle uses deliberate patterns of “recurrence and development” to create an “integrated movement” (Ingram 4) between and among the linked stories. Such patterns can include recurring narrators, major and minor characters, settings, and events. For example, Sandra Cisneros uses a single narrator in The House on Mango Street (1984) while James Joyce uses a single location in Dubliners (1914). This allows for a dynamic reading experience where each “successive” read can “significantly [modify the experience] of each of its component parts” (10). Ultimately, a well-executed cycle possesses the unique ability to balance the “individuality of the stories and the necessities of a larger unit” (5), meaning that each story can be examined both as a self-contained standalone work and in connection to other stories.
For my PhD creative writing project, I had initially hoped to write a novel about an extended Tamil Brahmin family over three generations. More specifically, I wished to examine the disparate and differing experiences within the diaspora across various locales and time periods to trace how Tamil Brahminness as an identity has evolved with modernization and migration. Part of this project involved presenting and re-presenting themes such as orthodoxy, patriarchy, and marriage in numerous ways, without succumbing to the pressure of reconciling any gaps. However, the traditional novel often necessitates a sustained plotline with a fixed perspective (or a controlled few). With my specific interest in capturing the inherent heterogeneity within diasporic familial experiences, I eventually found that the novel was an unsuitable, even uneven form. It would have been impossible to merge the tangential and disconnected threads I had in mind into a singular narrative, and doing so would have been a disservice to the larger community I was representing. I had also hoped to create co-protagonists, rather than a singular protagonist. These were thus the reasons that sent me searching for a new form, which I then found in Ingram’s work, particularly his definition of the cycle as a negotiation between individuals and a larger unit.
In this paper, I will, through a review of my practice-led research, detail the ways in which the short story cycle allows for not only an expansive portrait of a family but also a democratised one, where no one co-protagonist is privileged over another. Furthermore, the cycle is a utopian home for literary representations of family because it has the power to resist hierarchies that are ever-present in real life, both in families and the larger community, and allows for a balanced and egalitarian family portrait with multiple perspectives that are afforded equal weightage. Ultimately, this paper calls for more attention to be paid to this lesser known form and its largely untapped potential to accurately host diverse familial portraits.
Ingram, Forrest. Representative Twentieth-Century Short Story Cycles: Studies in a
Literary Genre. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1 Jan. 1967
Firstly, I must extend my sincere apologies for missing the original deadline - I am grateful to Anitha for letting me know that I could still submit my abstract this morning. Secondly, this paper is a revision of “The Short Story Cycle as a Metaphor for Family,” the second chapter of my PhD dissertation “Nine Yard Sarees: A Family Portrait” (2021), which can be found on DR-NTU.