For Years I had been thinking that the stories my
wrote deserved a larger audience,an audience of not only readers who wanted to read good fiction but writers whowanted to write good fiction. In my sabbatical project I set out to compile acollection of excellent student stories that would be the foundation for a book with alarger, instructional purpose. First, I read through piles of class collections from mylast nine years of teaching; I selected the best stories and began tracking down onewriter after another. Once I eventually made contact with all of them, they agreed,enthusiastically, not only to contribute their “old” short story from high school, butalso to compose a reflection on their story. Next, I read several excellent storycollections—among them
The Best American Short Stories 2004 and The Story Behind the Story: 26
Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work
—inwhich authors reflect on their own fiction writing; then, considering these books, Ideveloped a series of questions that would stimulate interesting reflections from“my” writers. One by one their reflections came in, and one by one I wasmesmerized. The reflections are stunning not only for their general quality but for their variety, honesty, depth of feeling, and humor. Without question, the mostgratifying aspect of working on this project was my ongoing correspondence withthese twenty-one committed writers, most of whom are in college or graduate school,some of whom have begun careers, and at least one of whom has gotten married andhas been living outside of the country. In each and every case, these writers recalledtheir stories passionately, and offered their own distinctive take on their personalwriting process. I read multiple drafts of their reflections and offered editorialadvice, pushing them to write the best, most interesting, most articulate reflectionthat they could—and revise they did. As the title indicates, these students—alongwith their stories and, ultimately, their reflections—
me; they inspired me to be a better teacher when they were students, and they once again inspired me whenthey wrote their reflections with such insight and care. As their reflections weresubmitted to me over the course of several months, I proceeded to write myreflections on their stories—and on their reflections as well. I examined each storyfrom some distinctive critical and pedagogical angle, highlighting, for example, theskillful use of the omniscient point of view in one story, while admiring the brave useof a writer’s personal life (as he confides in his reflection) in another story;subsequently, I developed a unique writing exercise to correspond with each storyand to correspond, specifically, with the distinctive quality or technique I highlightedin my reflection of the story. All together, the result is a panorama of neatly arrangedvoices, each offering up useful advice and insights, not to mention inspiration—for both students and teachers of writing. Ultimately, I conclude the book with a shortstory of my own, a story about writing stories—followed by my reflection, whichtraces the story’s inspiration back to my experience as a teacher at Penncrest HighSchool.