The stories on this page deal with art, writing, or music in the literal sense, and also include some stories where writing/storytelling is talked about in a self-conscious way.
A Continuity of Parks | Julio Cortazar
A man relaxes with a novel that he had started earlier. In it a woman and her lover are scheming against her husband. The man reading becomes immersed in the story.
Happy Endings | Margaret Atwood
In the “A” story, John and Mary meet, fall in love, get married, and live a happy normal life. Their story is told in five more ways, labeled “B” through “F”.
The Plutonian Fire | O. Henry
A short story writer who had some fiction published in the South struggles to get an editor’s approval in New York.
Skin | Roald Dahl
A panhandler passes an art gallery and sees a painting by a man he knew over thirty years ago. The painter’s work is now very valuable. The panhandler has a tattoo on his back, drawn by this master, so he goes inside to show the crowd.
The Bull | Saki
A farmer, Tom Yorkfield, gets a visit from his half-brother, Laurence, a painter of animals.
The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths | Jorge Luis Borges
A Babylonian king tells his guest, an Arab king, to enter his labyrinth. The Arab king gets out and tells the Babylonian king that he also has a labyrinth, and he will see to it that he gets to walk in it.
A Conversation with My Father | Grace Paley
A middle-aged woman talks to her bedridden father about tragedy in fiction and in life.
Guy de Maupassant | Isaac Babel
A destitute writer is hired by a wealthy married woman to help her translate Guy de Maupassant’s works.
A Wagner Matinee | Willa Cather
Clark gets a visit from his aunt, Georgiana, who’s in town on business. He thinks of how hard she has worked in her life. He takes her to a Wagner concert, and wonders if she’ll be able to appreciate it.
The Last Leaf | O. Henry
A few tenants in an apartment building are painters/artists. One of the tenants gets pneumonia and she can see a vine from her deathbed window. She says she’s going to die when the vine loses its last leaf.
The Harvest | Amy Hempel
A woman gets hurt in an accident and relates what happened. She also tells us when she’s exaggerating certain details. Then she goes back and tells us what really happened.
Art Work | A. S. Byatt
Debbie has a high paying job at a woman’s magazine which supports her and her husband, an artist. He is very particular about colors, insisting they be complementary. Their cleaning woman, Mrs. Brown, dresses eclectically and prefers art with any combination of colors, even clashing ones.
The Blues I’m Playing | Langston Hughes
Mrs. Ellsworth, a wealthy widow, serves as patron for Oceola Jones, a young black pianist. Oceola tries to maintain some distance while Mrs. Ellsworth pries into her life, trying to control whatever she can. Mrs. Ellsworth doesn’t agree with all the music Oceola plays, and she doesn’t approve of her boyfriend.
The Wind Blows | Katherine Mansfield
Matilda is awakened by the wind; it makes her feel unsettled. Her mother doesn’t want her to go to her music lesson because of the high wind, but Matilda wants to go anyway.
Life-Story | John Barth
A writer thinks about what to do with his current work, questioning the nature of the prose he writes. Perhaps he is a character in one of his stories and his life is fiction.
Love Poems | Lon Otto
A man writes a love poem, which he is very proud of. He plans on sending it to a woman, timing it to arrive on Valentine’s Day.
Absense | Carol Shields
A woman sits down to write a story but finds her keyboard has a broken letter. She decides to carry on and make do.
A Girl’s Story | David Arnason
A male writer describes the difficulty he has with his latest story. It’s about a beautiful woman sitting on a riverbank. He talks about his struggles with plot, symbolism, and avoiding stereotypes.
The Crop | Flannery O’Connor
While doing her daily chore of wiping the crumbs off the dining table, Miss Willerton thinks about ideas for a story. She settles on writing about a sharecropper because it’s an arty subject with social implications.
Read “The Crop” (PDF page 46)
Wunderkind | Carson McCullers
Frances, fifteen, arrives at the home of her piano instructor, Mr. Bilderbach. She is nervous; her playing has deteriorated lately. She has her lesson, and thinks about her history with her instructor, recent events that worry her, and her hopes and concerns.
Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote | Jorge Luis Borges
The narrator, a French academic, outlines the works of Pierre Menard, an author. According to the narrator, these are merely Menard’s visible works. He is going to focus on what he believes to be the authors’ unparalleled achievement—some chapters of the novel Don Quixote.
The Man Who Did Not Smile | Yasunari Kawabata
The author of a screenplay has been watching the filming of his movie for a week. He is inspired to rewrite the last scene, having smiling masks appear all over the screen. The movie is set in a mental hospital, so he thinks he must add a happy ending.
Read “The Man Who Did Not Smile” (Pg 143)
See also: How to Tell a True War Story (War), Edward the Conqueror (Cats), The Tragedy of a Comic Song (Relationships), A Mother (Greed)