The first sentence in this book appears at the start of Jayne Anne Phillips’ Introduction. It reads, “Breece D’J Pancake’s dozen stories, completed in the last four or five years of his life, include some of the best short stories written anywhere, at any time.” She means anywhere in the world, and anytime in the history of the written world. And this is Jayne Anne Phillips, herself an expert creator of short stories and a master of literary inclusion as a key midwife of today’s literary era that celebrates diversity in published writing. Her role as the founder and director of the Rutgers University-Newark MFA in Creative Writing Program arguably led the way in this revolution. Anyone who gives a hoot about reading or writing short stories must read this book. It includes the complete text, including the Foreword and Afterword of the original collection of Pancake’s work published after he died of suicide at the age of 26. Jayne Anne Phillips has added additional story drafts, fragments of Pancake’s never-completed two novels, and selected letters that illuminate his life and art, along with the editor’s twenty-page insightful introduction that fleshes out Pancake’s origins and accomplishments. Jayne Anne Phillips was the perfect person to take on this essential task of reintroducing Breece D’J Pancake to this generation. Nobody could have done it better. Both Phillips and Pancake were small-town middle-class West Virginia natives born the very same year, 1952, who as youths not only both were devoted to writing short stories, but also eschewed class chauvinism and cherished traveling the back roads and hanging out and working with all classes of people.
New York: Library of America/Penguin Random House, 2020. 384 pages with an Index and Notes. Hardback in dust jacket.