The idea for this text began in 1994, when I was asked to be the next director of an international short-story conference, with a commitment to the stories being written in English. I was at the University of Northern Iowa, and Dr. Mary Rohrberger, the cosponsor of the previous conference, which had been held jointly at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa in 1992, asked me to consider taking on the task of directing the conference. By directing, she meant gathering a list of writers and scholars to invite to the conference, getting external and internal funding, and developing a program. I was convinced over a glass of scotch and Godiva chocolates.
We settled on a theme, “Voices of Diversity,” and put together a stellar list of writers, which included Isabel Allende, Amiri Baraka, Richard Bausch, Clark Blaise, Richard Ford, Wilson Harris, Bharati Mukherjee, Judith OrtizCofer, Sonia Sanchez, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Amy Tan. Noted critics invited and attended included Selwyn Cudjoe, Daryl Dance, Suzanne Ferguson, Morton Levitt, Susan Lohafer, Charles May, Annis Pratt, Kenneth Ramchand, Austin Wright, and of course, Mary Rohrberger, who is known as the most prominent critic of the short story since her book Story to AntiStoryappeared in the 1960s. What impressed me about the conference was the intellectual exchange between writers and critics and the fact that they were often in disagreement about the genre as it related to both creativity and meaning, but were often in agreement about its importance in the classroom or in the field of American letters. I did detect a bit of frustration among the writers, because they were the creators of the literature, but others (i.e., the