You Gotta Know These Short Story Authors

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter, 1862–1910)
An American short story author known for his twist endings. He included many of his stories in his collections Cabbages and Kings and The Four Million. In his story “The Gift of the Magi,” the married couple Jim and Della exchange Christmas gifts. Della sells her hair to Madame Sofronie and buys a gold pocket-watch chain, while Jim sells his watch in order to buy a set of combs, rendering each other’s gifts useless. O. Henry also wrote “The Ransom of Red Chief,” in which Ebenezer Dorset’s son, the title character, is kidnapped by Bill and Sam, who intend to hold him for ransom. However, “Red Chief” annoys his captors so much that they pay Mr. Dorset to give him his son back.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)
An American author many of whose stories feature the semi-autobiographical character Nick Adams. Adams appears in “Big Two-Hearted River,” in which he goes on a fishing trip to the town of Seney, Michigan. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” a woman named Jig talks with a man at a train station, considering an unnamed “procedure,” which is implied to be an abortion. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” begins with the description of a frozen leopard carcass; its protagonist, Harry, is a writer who dies of gangrene while on an African safari with his wife Helen. Hemingway also apocryphally wrote a six-word story consisting of the words “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Shirley Jackson (1916–1965)
An American short story author and novelist known for her works in the mystery and horror genres. Her most famous short story is “The Lottery,” whose publication in The New Yorker was extremely controversial, garnering her hate mail. The story begins with village children gathering stones, foreshadowing the end result of the title event. Mr. Summers tells all of the village families to draw slips of paper from a black box, and Bill Hutchinson’s has a black spot. The entire Hutchinson family then has to draw, and Tessie receives the black spot, meaning she has “won” the title event. The story ends with her yelling “It isn’t fair” as the townspeople stone her to death.
J. D. Salinger (1919–2010)
An American author best known for the novel The Catcher in the Rye. Many of Salinger’s short stories featured the Glass family, including “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” in which Seymour and Muriel Glass are on vacation at a Florida resort. Seymour meets a young girl named Sybil Carpenter and talks with her about the title creatures, before returning to his hotel room and shooting himself. In “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor,” the narrator Sergeant X replies to a wedding invitation with two distinct memories; in the first, he meets Esmé, an English orphan, during a church choir practice, and in the second, set during his time as a soldier in Bavaria, he receives a letter containing a wristwatch from Esmé. Both of those stories are included in Salinger’s collection Nine Stories.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)
An American author known for his works in the detective fiction, science fiction, and horror genres. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” the narrator, Montresor, lures Fortunato into catacombs with the promise of the title wine, but ends up chaining Fortunato to a wall and burying him alive due to unnamed “insults.” Poe also wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which an unnamed narrator murders an old man with a “vulture-eye” and buries him beneath his floorboards. However, while being questioned by police, the guilty narrator hears the constant beating of his victim’s heart, and orders them to “tear up the planks” to reveal the body. Other short stories by Poe include “The Gold-Bug,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)
An American author known for his science fiction works. “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which appears in his collection The Martian Chronicles and takes its title from a Sara Teasdale poem, describes an empty house that survived a nuclear catastrophe. The house is fully automated and continues to operate even though the family is dead, a fact demonstrated by their silhouettes permanently burned on the side of the house. In his story “A Sound of Thunder,” Eckels steps on a butterfly while hunting a T. Rex on a time-travel safari, which changes the future timeline so that the fascist Deutscher wins an election.
Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893)
A French author who frequently used ironic endings in his stories, including “The Necklace.” In that story, Mathilde Loisel borrows the expensive-looking title piece of jewelry from Madame Forestier, and loses it at a high-class party. In order to afford a 36,000 francs replacement, she and her husband sell everything they own. Ten years later, Madame Forestier recognizes Mathilde on the street and informs her that the necklace was a fake. In “Boule de Suif,” translated into English as “Ball of Fat,” the title character is a prostitute who is on a carriage leaving Prussian-occupied Rouen. The travelers are detained by the Prussians until Boule de Suif sleeps with an officer, for which she is judged for the remainder of the trip even though her fellow passengers pressured her to do so.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)
An American author whose stories are often set in New England. In “The Minister’s Black Veil,” Hawthorne wrote about Reverend Hopper, who stubbornly refuses to take off the title article of clothing. Hawthorne also wrote “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” in which the title character shows off water from the Fountain of Youth. Both of those stories are included in his collection Twice-Told Tales. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the title character is Beatrice, the child of a scientist who grows poisonous plants, who herself becomes poisonous. After Giovanni falls in love with Beatrice, he brings her an antidote so they can be together, but, instead of curing her, the antidote kills Beatrice. That story appears alongside “The Birth-Mark” and “Young Goodman Brown” in the collection Mosses from an Old Manse.
Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964)
A Catholic American author who wrote in the “Southern Gothic” style. In her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Bailey takes his family on a vacation; when they stop at a diner, “the grandmother” talks with the owner Red Sammy about The Misfit, an escaped murderer. After the cat Patty Sing causes the family’s car to crash into a ditch, a group of men led by the Misfit murder the family, including the grandmother, who claims The Misfit is one of her own children before he shoots her three times. In “Good Country People,” Hulga has her prosthetic leg taken by Manley Pointer, a nihilistic atheist Bible salesman. O’Connor also wrote “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” in which Julian rides on a newly-integrated bus with his mother.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986)
An Argentine author known for his philosophical stories. In “The Library of Babel,” the narrator’s universe is made of adjacent hexagonal rooms, forming a library containing all possible 410-page books consisting of 25 basic characters. Another story by Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” is framed as a manuscript written by Doctor Yu Tsun, a World War I spy, who is pursued by Richard Madden. He realizes that the title labyrinth is actually an unfinished novel, and eventually shoots Stephen Albert to communicate the location of a British artillery park. Those two stories appear along with “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” in Borges’s collection Ficciones. Borges also wrote “The Aleph,” whose title location contains all other points in space.

This article was contributed by NAQT writer Alex Stoneman.

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