Call For Papers

David Foster Wallace and the Short Things

This conference is designed to explore the relationship between David Foster Wallace and short fiction. The organisers particularly welcome proposed papers on as yet unstudied, or understudied aspects of Wallace’s own use of the short story, as well as its influence on contemporary short fiction. What is evident in Wallace’s own short fiction is a continued experimentation with the possibilities of the form, framed by the almost inescapable influence of the form’s recent history. Wallace’s engagement with Barth – and 1960’s postmodern fiction more generally – has been well covered by critics, but there is little discussion, as yet, on the ways in which Wallace employed short fiction as a means of understanding genre, period, and styles of writing. New thoughts on this aspect are encouraged.

As Wallace was clearly influenced by the short fiction of Barth, Barthelme, Coover, Gass and other more conventional authors, so his own fiction has influenced an array of his contemporaries, such as  George Saunders, Arthur Bradford, and Charles Yu. Wallace’s presence in these fictions might be subtle, no more than a turn of phrase, or, as in the case of Saunders, it may be fundamental to an author’s own project. Each of these extremes needs to be considered in new approaches to Wallace and short fiction, and papers which make connections with other authors, and which explore the wider implications of Wallace’s own short fiction, are welcomed.

Our confirmed Keynote speaker is Dr Stephen J. Burn (University of Glasgow) author of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, A Reader’s Guide (2003), editor of Conversations with David Foster Wallace (2012), and co-editor of A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies (2013).

The organisers invite abstracts (to: of 250 words for proposed 20 minute papers, including but not limited to the following list of observations:


  • Wallace suggests that Borges wrote “metaphysical arguments” disguised as stories; such descriptions might yield light on some of Wallace’s short fictions.
  • Papers may discuss the suggestion that Wallace conceived of his short works as extending beyond the genre of the ‘short story’.
  • Papers may focus on Wallace’s use of, and thoughts on, short fiction in an institutional context, or what Mark McGurl calls ‘the program era’.
  • Wallace’s use of short fiction to map the contemporary literary field
  • There is a feeling is certain Wallace stories that material is related to, or has been composed conterminously with novels. For example, in the story ‘The Soul is not a Smithy’, the narrator has dreams of rows of desks which recur, almost identically in wording and atmosphere, in passages of The Pale King. Papers could explore these compositional connections.
  • Papers might also – at a point when Wallace’s short fiction project is unfortunately complete – consider the purpose and success of this project.
  • Papers might also consider that Wallace uses short fiction as a means of testing the reader’s attention.
  • Papers might focus on Wallace’s use of short fiction – such as Kincaid’s ‘Girl’, in his own teaching.

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