Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)

Module ENGL44230: Short Fiction Today

Department: English Studies

ENGL44230: Short Fiction Today

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module examines a range of postmodern and contemporary short fictional forms in English, including the short story, short story cycle, novella, microfiction and digital short story. Comparative in approach, it addresses works by British, Irish, North American, African and Indian writers, examining the ways in which short fiction has proven itself remarkably adaptable to the changing demands of literary production and study in their global context. Short forms also prove highly responsive to the complex and shifting intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and nation central to contemporary being and belonging. By encouraging a balance of detailed critical analysis, focused research, and more adventurous theoretical speculation, the module aims to provide a means for revisiting the relation of literary and the contemporary formation of subjectivity in a global context.


  • This module examines a range of postmodern and contemporary short stories in English by British, Irish, North American, African, Indian and New Zealand writers. The short story “fits our age,” according to Michele Roberts. Fast-paced and fragmentary, the brevity of the short story is able to communicate the complex intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and regional and national identity that invest the immediacy of our contemporary lives with their singular intensity. Beginning roughly with the renaissance of the short story often tied to the emergence of literary minimalism, the module examines a spectrum of shorter forms that include the stand-alone short story, the short story cycle, the novella, microfiction, and recent experiments in digital media and social media platforms, as evidenced in so-called ‘twitter fiction’.
  • The prescribed stories will vary from year to year, and will draw on a selection of writers, including Arivand Adiga, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, John Barth, Samuel Beckett, Colin Barrett, Raymond Carver, Teju Cole, Jim Crace, Lydia Davis, Junot Diaz, Jennifer Eagan, Bret Easton Ellis, Danielle Evens, Dave Eggers, Kenneth Goldsmith, Amy Hempel, A.M. Homes, Jonathan Kemp, Deborah Levy, China Miéville, Phaswane Mpe, Alice Munro, Ali Smith, Tao Lin, David Foster Wallace and Jeanette Winterson.
  • Central concerns include a sustained analysis of: the aesthetics of brevity and its narratological dimension in relation to other literary forms and genres; the relation of short fiction to the evolving media of literary production, with a specific emphasis on questions of acceleration, mobility, migration and the demand for immediacy, continuity and ease of access; the concept of literary scale, and its significance in discovering ways to express the universal need, increasingly under threat, for connection and belonging in a local and global context; and the concept of intersectionality and its importance in forging new forms of subjectivity and resistance in a contemporary world marked not only by tremendous complexity but by growing inequalities and fragility.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students successfully completing the module will be able to:
  • demonstrate a broad understanding of various short fictional forms, their aesthetic, formal and stylistic concerns, and their significance to literary study more broadly;
  • demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the prescribed material;
  • situate the prescribed material in relation to important trends in the historical development of short forms and in relation to broader trends in contemporary literature;
  • comment in detail on the stylistic, structural, formal, narratological and rhetorical aspects of the short story as exemplified in the prescribed material;
  • critically evaluate the relationship of prescribed material to broader social, political, ethical and theoretical issues highlighted during the module with specific focus on the concepts of brevity, scale, medium and intersectionality and their significance to understanding contemporaneity more broadly.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students completing this module will be able to:
  • conduct advanced, informed and carefully substantiated critical analysis of literary texts;
  • demonstrate advanced knowledge of issues pertaining to literary form and its relation to literary media;
  • demonstrate an advanced understanding of relevant conceptual and theoretical material;
  • engage in cogent and articulate verbal discussion of material both through informal participation and formal presentation;
  • construct conceptually, structurally and stylistically sophisticated responses to literature that demonstrate insight and sensitivity to texts and their contexts (conceptual, historical, political, geographical);
  • demonstrate an advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students completing this module will develop:
  • advanced subject-specific skills in critical reasoning and analysis;
  • the capacity to synthesize theoretical, genre-specific, and textual knowledge to construct persuasive arguments in discussion and presentations in the context of seminars, and in written summative work;
  • advanced generic skills with respect to the identification, location, acquisition and correct citation of sources in the process of conducting research;
  • the capacity to advance independent, carefully-considered and sustained arguments and to engage in sustained dialogue with the ideas and work of others.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students will participate in a range of learning activities that include:
  • informal responses and discussion of material offered by the seminar leader and by fellow students, encouraging the development of intellectually adventurous and individual positions, an openness and responsiveness to the ideas of others, and an the ability to articulate views and differences of opinion with ease and confidence;
  • formal presentations on pre-assigned topics, themes or works within the seminar context that will develop the ability to construct, present and defend sustained arguments regarding texts and their context;
  • two assessed written pieces will provide a vehicle for students to develop their research and writing skills and provide the context for the focused and more detailed study of specific writers, collections, forms/genres and ideas.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 50%
Essay 2 3000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University