Flash fiction: the best microfiction and short stories by women

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Unmissable super short stories by brilliant women.

In need of some quick, clever diversions on your commute? Microfiction is the answer. These fast, short stories are incredible examples of what a good writer and a big dose of brevity can achieve. 

Possibly the world’s most famous example of microfiction (or flash fiction as it’s also known) is Ernest Hemingway’s bet that he could write a story in just six words then scribbled on a napkin: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  But writers such as Lydia Davis, Roxane Gay, Megan Giddings, Anne Enright and Ruth Joffre are leading the genre with inventive, poetic and short works that’ll leave you searching for more.

Here is Stylist’s guide to the flash fiction female writers you need to read (plus you could probably do it all in the next hour…). 

  • Everyone Cried by Lydia Davis

    Can't And Won't by Lydia Davis
    The best microfiction by women: Can't And Won't by Lydia Davis

    Anointed queen of microfiction and winner of the international Man Booker Prize in 2013, Davis’ work is funny, piercing, wise and, often, incredibly brief. Her breakout 2014 collection, Can’t And Won’t, featured 122 stories (some of which were only a few lines long); she can conjure up people’s lives with just a few keystrokes in a way that’ll make your head spin. Take a look at Everyone Cried, which makes up part of The New Yorker’s flash fiction series. Adults are reduced to overtired, wailing toddlers while Davis simultaneously captures the futility and quiet desperation of everyday lives. What a writer.

    Read Everyone Cried here

    Shop Can’t And Won’t by Lydia Davis (Penguin) at Wordery, £9.32

  • You’re An Ugly Crier by Megan Giddings

    Lakewood by Megan Giddings
    Best microfiction by women: Lakewood by Megan Giddings

    Megan Giddings is an interesting writer as well as being the editor of Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction – a collection of flash fiction by writers of colour that everyone should own. With her first novel, Lakewood, coming out on 30 April 2020, now’s the time to explore her online microfiction. In You’re An Ugly Crier she dissects the extreme antics of broken hearts with forensic precision and humour; The Brothers Wham! features George Michael raising the dead while Eleventh Floor Ghost is the strange and heartbreaking tale of a ghost who barely knows herself (with a side order of Gordon Ramsay to boot). Enjoy… 

    Read Giddings’ microfiction here

    Shop Lakewood by Megan Giddings (Harper Collins) at Waterstones, £20

  • The Blind Man by Kate Chopin

    The Awakening by Kate Chopin
    The best microfiction by women: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

    At just 757 words, Chopin is able to conjure up a sense of time, place and the tragedy of a blind man endeavouring to sell pencils from a red box only to be met with indifference, children’s bullying and mishandling by the police. It’s an insight into the work of Chopin, who is now widely regarded as a seminal feminist writer (her 1899 novella The Awakening was banned on publication thanks to its frank themes of adultery and its debunking of motherhood). The Blind Man, which was written in 1894, is also a powerful short story which captures the dangers of non-conformity. 

    Read The Blind Man here

    Shop The Awakening & Other Stories by Kate Chopin (Pan Macmillan) at Waterstones, £9.99

  • Curriculum by Sejal Shah

    This Is One Way To Dance by Sejal Shah
    The best microfiction by women: This Is One Way To Dance by Sejal Shah

    Curriculum is broken into three parts: area studies, women’s studies and visual studies. In each section the narrator considers items that belonged to her mother: two handkerchiefs that map out the now-defunct British East Africa, a small piece of embroidery, and her mother’s glasses. Within this brief snapshot, Shah conjures up a world of unsaid words, of grief, of regret, of a life that’s gone; it’s pretty devastating. With a book of essays exploring culture and family due out in June 2020, Shah is a name to watch. 

    Read Curriculum here

    Shop This Is One Way To Dance by Sejal Shah (Georgia University Press) at Amazon, £19.50

  • Bang Bang On The Stair by Diane Williams

    The Collected Stories Of Diane Williams
    Best microfiction by women: The Collected Stories Of Diane Williams

    The Paris Review described Williams as “the godmother of flash fiction” while writer Jonathan Franzen hailed her as “one of the true living heroes of the American avant-garde. Her fiction makes very familiar things very, very weird.” Committed to pushing things forwards in writing (she is the founder and publisher of the literary annual, NOON) and generally not afraid of doing things her own way, take a step into Williams’ writing with Bang Bang On The Stair. You’ll read it again and again and still be wondering what it all means. 

    Read Bang Bang On The Stair here

    Shop The Collected Stories Of Diane Williams (Soho Press) at Blackwells, £18.99

  • The Weight by Anne Enright

    Actress by Anne Enright
    Best microfiction by women: Actress by Anne Enright

    A prodigious contemporary writer (2016’s The Green Road was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction while her new book, Actress, is one of 2020’s can’t-miss titles), Enright is also known for her short stories. As she explains, “When you are really working it, every sentence in a story does many things, all at once. They are like three-dimensional crosswords.” In The Weight, she proves this adage by creating a brief heart-stopping tale of tension which also manages to touch on human connection, ageing, male privilege and motherhood.  

    Read The Weight here

    Shop Actress by Anne Enright (Vintage) at Waterstones, £16.99

  • A Girl Turns To Stone by Ruth Joffre

    Night Beast by Ruth Joffre
    Best microfiction by women: Night Beast by Ruth Joffre

    If you’re a fan of Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties, Joffre is a writer you need to know. Exploring queer identity and women’s bodies, Joffre’s spartan way with words delves into the heart of women’s traumas, needs and desires – her microfiction A Girl Turns To Stone begins with hope and humour but soon captures the heartbreak of rejection in just 388 words. If you’re taken with that then pick up Night Beast – her dark collection of short stories.

    Read A Girl Turns To Stone here 

    Shop Night Beast by Ruth Joffre (Grove Press) at Amazon, £12.33

  • Unnecessary Things by Tatyana Tolstaya

    Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya
    Best microfiction by women: Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya

    Tatyana Tolstaya is a Russian TV host, creative writing teacher and author who is famous for her acerbic essays. However, in this flash fiction, Unnecessary Things, she manages to conjure up the childlike love for a teddy bear while simultaneously reinforcing the notion that at some point in our lives we all need to grow up and move on. Both anti-nostalgic and romantic, it taps into her wider work which often explores the realities of Russia’s post-Soviet society. 

    Read Unnecessary Things here

    Shop Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya (Daunt Books) at Foyles, £9.99 

  • Requiem For A Glass Heart by Roxane Gay

    Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
    Best microfiction by women: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

    “The stone thrower lives in a glass house with his glass family.” Requiem For A Glass Heart is a masterclass in microfiction. In 468 words, Gay captures the reductive nature of marriage for women, heartbreak, adultery, double standards and self-deception. As part of Gay’s collection of stories published in Difficult Women (2017), it’s a reminder that her anthology is one of the modern feminism’s essential works. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you’re in for a treat.

    Read Requiem For A Glass Heart here

    Shop Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (Little, Brown) at Wordery, £9.99

  • Have You Ever Met One? by Rivka Galchen

    American Innovations by Rivka Galchen
    Best microfiction by women: American Innovations by Rivka Galchen

    Rivka Galchen is a Canadian-American author whose work ranges from a psychological thriller in which the protagonist’s wife is replaced by a double (2008’s Atmospheric Disturbances) via short stories to a book of weird essays about babies: in short, she’s someone worth your time. In Have You Ever Met One? the narrator presents three ghosts who pop up in her life (one of whom is her father in the form of a Bernese mountain dog). It’s offbeat, sad and also funny. 

    Read Have You Ever Met One? here

    Shop American Innovations by Rivka Galchen (HarperCollins) at Waterstones, £9.99

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown

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