Why stories? Why now? After all, the thinking seems to go – at least, in my social media hive mind – there are more pressing matters, more urgent issues. More rallies to attend, more phone calls to make, more abuses of power to resist. And all this is true – and it is urgent – and it is necessary to respond to the tyranny of the moment with all of our force and might and voice. At the same time, though, I feel certain that to lose our sense of story is to capitulate more absolutely in the face of fascism than any other surrender we might make. The stories we tell are the shape of the world, and the warning of the world to come or the hope of the world we might make. Writers have a unique gift to offer to a sick and sore society: the stories that can keep us alive.

When I read these Wigleaf Top 50 stories, I felt more alive than I have in months. I felt electric, hopeful, aware – I was a thousand thousand pairs of eyes that took in so much human joy and pain and strangeness. Thank goodness for the sites that publish flash fiction - some familiar, some here new to me, all now on my radar - and thank goodness for the writers who take up the often thankless form of flash. In particular the flash fiction story allows for that sense of compression, the epic sense of feeling that gives a story urgency and fierceness. The flash fiction pulses. It punches. It demands reading. And these stories, each one in their own way, demand reading – and rereading. They vary wildly in tone, in subject matter, in setting, and in form. Some play with structure, and some are straightforward narrative. Some are surreal and bizarre, and some are kitchen table realism. Some take place all over the globe, in far flung regions – and some take place in the space no larger than a character's own mind. But every one of these stories took risks of some kind. Every one of these stories kept me nearly breathless for the duration. They were fun to read or hard to read but all were good to read – they all made me giddy and glad to be a person.

And while reading these stories, I thought about something else, too. The diversity of lived experience and subject matter is wide and wonderful. There are paupers and rich people, people of color, refugees, immigrants, women who love women, men who love men, and women who love moose, too. (Just wait.) The living and the dead, animals and demons, people who work, children – so much of the human experience is right here, housed in these fifty stories. And so I thought: if Donald Trump read books – if he read stories like these – might he be a better person? Might he understand and embrace the kind of shared humanity that writers are so good at delivering? Surely it was no accident that President Barack Obama embraced the widest, most inclusive notion of human society that any American president has yet – and also was one of the most well-read of our presidents, particularly in literary fiction?

But alas, Donald Trump will probably never read a magazine without his picture on the cover, let alone a novel or a short story. So perhaps that hope is futile. And yet – that simply means that we writers must press on, must keep doing what we do best: telling the stories that humans need to hear. That is the work that will keep us alive in the dark times. And it is the work that will tell the story of how we survived them, long after we're gone.

Amber Sparks is the author of the short story collection The Unfinished World and Other Stories, which has received praise from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Paris Review, among others. She is also the author of a previous short story collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies, as well as the co-author of a hybrid novella with Robert Kloss and illustrator Matt Kish, titled The Desert Places. She's written numerous short stories, flash fictions and essays, which have been featured in various publications and across the web. Say hi on Twitter @ambernoelle

To link to this directly: http://wigleaf.com/17top50intro.htm

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