Poe's Legacy: The Short Story Writer as Editor and Critic
As a short story critic, editor, and teacher myself, I have found that the best commentators on short fiction are short story writers. When I teach writers as critics of (or as commentators) the short story, it achieves at least four ends. I have found that authors who write about the writing of short fiction often give permission to students to think critically and even independently about what they have read. An example of this is Nathaniel Hawthorne's beautifully composed Preface to his second edition of The Twice-Told Tales. What Hawthorne writes that gives courage to my students is this: As he glances over long- forgotten pages and considers his way of life while composing them, he says he can very clearly discern why he was so ignored in his early years as a writer. He says he would have reason to be ashamed if he could not criticize his own work as fairly as another person's. He confesses that although it is scarcely his business, he can hardly resist the temptation to comment on his stories. Hawthorne even says that if writers were allowed to do so and would perform the task with perfect sincerity and unreserve, their opinions of their own productions would often be more valuable and instructive than the works themselves. That is the didactic Hawthorne speaking. Certainly, however, one of the strengths of the short story form is that it is short and thus can be collected, and such collections invite writers to comment on their own work in their introductions, as Hawthorne has.
Another reason I like commentaries by writers as critics of short fiction is that they give an immediate sense to students--much more quickly than I could in a course of fourteen weeks--of the direct transmission of a literary tradition. If a student reads Willa Cather describing how she was impressed by Sarah Ome Jewett's work and was empowered partly by Jewett's work to become a writer, there is a sense of writers listening to and reading and helping each other become writers.