On Fiction Chapbooks and the Lure of the Small

Fiction chapbooks are “bites of fiction that are complete and lovely.” ~ Diane Goettel


The AWP 2012 Conference session that offered the most pleasant surprise was “The Fiction Chapbook—A Sleeper Form Wakes Up,” presented by these editors and publishers:

Why are some of us drawn to what is small, compact, miniaturized? As I write this in a Chicago hotel room on my iPhone (with the help of a small, wireless keyboard), waiting until it is time to leave for Union Station, I am reminded of the famous Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. One reason for the lure may be that miniature art forms offer the promise of perfection (or near perfection) impossible in bigger, sloppier works.

I admit that I had never heard of fiction chapbooks before attending this session and was fascinated by the idea that chapbooks could be use for more than poetry. The panelists discussed examples that ranged from limited runs of tiny books the size of index cards, with hand-made covers, to glossy, bookstore-ready paperbacks available through Amazon and Powell’s.

The focus was the same for all, however: To get good writing into the hands of readers.

Eric Lorberer discussed how chapbooks were historically—and once again are becoming—an important form, saying that now there is “a profound opportunity to use the form and strength of the chapbook.”

He concluded, “The marketplace is crumbling all around us, so we might as well have fun with what we’re going.”

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