Last August saw Engine Books publish Matt Pitt's second story collection, These Are Our Demands--it's excellent and Engine has really become a go-to publisher for me each year now when looking for new story collections. Matthew was kind enough to answer a few questions about stories.
EWN: Your short story collection, These Are Our Demands, was published in 2017. What story within the collection had the earliest publication history outside of being in the collection, and what was that history?
MATTHEW: “Observing the Sabbath, Part II” is the oldest, published nine years before the collection, and even before my first story collection was released. This story emerged as a kind of desk-laboratory experiment: I was considering three POVs for a novel. Since short stories were all I knew at that time as a writer, I thought I’d write three separate stories, one from each POV, examining three separate Sundays. The first “Observing the Sabbath” is in my first collection, and my goal is to place Part 3 of the series in my third —so, a sort of trinity playing out over three books (whether a holy trinity or not).
EWN: How did the publication of this particular collection come about? Were you solicited by the publisher, win a contest, agent submission, etc.?
MATTHEW: The book was picked up by Engine Books—a turn of events I couldn’t be happier about.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as an author? Primary form to work with, or something you write when an idea hits, or …?
MATTHEW: This is a tricky answer to quantify. Short fiction is a beloved form, and my only form for quite some time. It still feels primary, but that might be because while working on a single novel, in the daily trenches on that one project, I’m also simultaneously working on a Whitman’s Sampler of stories. The greater quantity might hoodwink me into believing I’m working on stories more. I’d probably need a labor accountant to audit my hours to say for sure (since I’d also have to account for micro-essays, plays-in-progress, etc.). Probably what matters most is that the varied forms chatter with one another; plunging into a novel chapter with abandon might encourage me to tackle a late-draft risk or technical challenge with a story deep in revision.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?
MATTHEW: I read them constantly, yet it always feels I haven’t read enough. The stories offering the greatest pleasure are those I keep returning to: rereading them, sure, but also idly daydreaming about or intently obsessing over them when they aren’t even in my hands. That happens with novels as well, but there, it’s more likely I’ll be examining a certain excerpt, a single movement, rather than the whole narrative at once. I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and The Great Gatsby more than once, but stories like “Sonny’s Blues” or “Emergency” or “Gorilla, My Love” or “Gryphon” or “No River Wide” or “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” or “Everything That Rises Must Converge” or “My Shape” or “Wants” or, or, or (you see I’m losing control of this sentence’s steering wheel, and also, want to promote the stories above to anyone reading this). Each is a gift gaining value with time and familiarity. Not only do great stories not depreciate with use and wear, they offer new surprises each time around. Is there any greater testament to resonant art than that?
EWN: How will you be celebrating National Short Story Month this May?
MATTHEW: Well, early May equals final portfolio time at my university, so I will be reading, marking up, and grading huge stacks of stories. I don’t know if that qualifies as celebrating. Though when I encounter students who turn corners in revision, or fashion a scene or sentence that signals the singularity of their voice, it is cause for celebration. Once grades are turned in, I’ll dive into collections I’ve been meaning to get to for some time: Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg, and Fools by Joan Silber. Great thing about literature: you can come to any party unfashionably, unreasonably late, and still feel welcome.
EWN: Thank you very much for your time!
St. Louis native Matthew Pitt is author of two fiction collections: These Are Our Demands (Engine/Ferry Street Books, 2017), and Attention Please Now (Autumn House Press, 2010), winner of the Autumn House Fiction Prize and a Writers’ League of Texas Book Award finalist. His stories and nonfiction appear in dozens of publications and anthologies, including: Oxford American, Epoch, The Southern Review, Cincinnati Review, Conjunctions, Smithsonian and Best New American Voices. They have also been cited in editions of The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and The Pushcart Prize anthologies. Among his fellowships and awards include honors from the Mississippi Arts Commission, Bronx Council on the Arts, The New York Times, the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Taos Writers’ Conferences, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.