The short, short story,a
legacy from Florida State's Jerry Stern
Jerome Stern and his wife Maxine, in 1995 in
Florence, Italy, where he taught in FSU's summer program.
By Margaret Leonard
Before he died of cancer in March, Jerome Stern edited MicroFiction, a little
book of short, short stories. Each was 300 words or less.
Editor in Chief, Florida State Times
Ten years before, Stern, director of the writing program at Florida State,
had started the "World's Best Short Short Story Contest."
The contest caught on: NPR broadcast the winners; literary magazines began
to publish "lack of length" stories; entries poured in; and W.W.
Norton accepted the book for publication.
Stern came to FSU as an instructor in 1966 after earning a Ph.D. from the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
An immensely popular teacher and mentor to young writers, Stern ran the
writing program at FSU, conducted writing workshops, wrote regular commentaries
for National Public Radio, edited the books page and wrote a column for
the Tallahassee Democrat, wrote for national magazines and taught writing
and a course in popular culture.
In 1990, he published Making Shapely Fiction, a book of advice and commentary
on writing that drew high praise from the New York Times.
"It's a book that fits my short attention span," he said of Making
Shapely Fiction, which is organized in small bites rather than the traditional
textbook style of long chapters containing long paragraphs with long sentences
and big words.
In 1993, Stern and Gary Monroe photographed and wrote Florida Dreams, a
travelogue of eccentric, early and off-beat attractions, which was published
by the FSU Museum of Fine Arts.
Before he died, Stern started a fund for creative writing students.
The address is Jerry Stern Creative Writing Fund, FSU English Department,
406 Williams Building, Tallahassee, Fla. 32306-1036.
MicroFiction contains stories by 53 writers, 10 of whom are students, graduates
or faculty at FSU. Stern himself wrote the story that is reprinted in full
on this page.
by Jerome Stern
I get bad news in the morning and faint. Lying on tile, I think about death
and see the tombstone my wife and I saw twenty years ago in the hilly colonial
cemetery in North Carolina: Peace at last. I wonder, where is fear? The
doctor, embarrassed, picks me up off the floor and I stagger to my car.
What do people do next?
I pick up my wife. I look at my wife. I think how much harder it would be
for me if she were this sick. I remember the folk tale that once seemed
so strange to me, of the peasant wife beating her dying husband for abandoning
her. For years, people have speculated on what they would do if they only
had a week, a month a year to live. Feast or fast? I feel a failure of imagination.
I should want something fantastic - a final meal atop the Eiffel Tower.
Maybe I missed something not being brought up in a religion that would haunt
me now with an operatic final confrontation between good and evil - I try
to imagine myself a Puritan fearful of damnation, a saint awaiting glory.
But I have never been able to take seriously my earnestly mystical students,
their belief that they were heading to join the ringing of the eternal spheres.
So my wife and I drive to the giant discount warehouse. We sit on the floor
like children and, in five minutes, pick out a 60-inch television, the largest
set in the whole God damn store.
Nobel winner urges change
By Bayard Stern
Special to the Florida State Times
Can education in the sciences keep up with science itself?
"Not unless it changes," says Dr. Robert Schrieffer, chief scientist
at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
A Nobel Prize winner, Schrieffer believes the traditional rigid division
of study into disciplines - chemistry, biology, physics - may need revision.
"A central issue is whether discipline-based education, which has produced
such a cornucopia of excellent science over the past half century, is well
suited to address the most challenging and relevant problems at the forefront
of science and technology today," Schreiffer says.
"Scientific research is evolving," he says, "from a collection
of separate disciplines with their own languages and conventions to an effort
that must be cooperative."
In the field of turbulence, for example, physicists, mathematicians, aerodynamicists,
hydrodynamicists and computer scientists have made great contributions by
In the past, such specialized disciplines have been largely segregated.
"But science is becoming cross disciplined, and graduate education
must follow," Schrieffer argues. "Many forefront research projects
involve a variety of fields," Schrieffer says. "Yet most graduate
courses are tied closely to a traditional discipline, even a specialized
Research across disciplines, though necessary, raises problems as long as
graduate education is over-specialized. "When chemists speak with physicists,
by and large, they have sufficiently different backgrounds and different
points of view ..." Schrieffer says. "It is quite remarkable I
think to one who is not in the field to see how high these barriers are...
The barriers must be crossed in graduate school."
One scheme might look something like this:
Several "lead" professors decide on a set of sub-disciplines that
complement each other.
"A natural combination of courses for cross-disciplinary study,"
says Schreiffer, "may be solid-state chemistry combined with materials
science and physics.
"The lead professors should gain an in-depth familiarity with the relevant
concepts, reasoning, and results with all areas involved."
Each professor would then pick out four or five key topics where those fields
intersect. All would then teach courses in a sequence emphasizing their
own disciplines, but maintaining continuity with other courses in the sequence.
Under such an arrangement, students could appreciate the way different disciplines
relate to each other and be better prepared for advanced research.
"Such a change", he says, "will take a lot of work and thought,
and will encounter obstacles from a system that has rewarded specialization."