Best public-domain short stories for public performance/reading?
January 29, 2014 6:53 AM   Subscribe

What are the best short stories, in the public domain or otherwise up for grabs, for public performance?

I'm starting a series of public readings of great short stories. This will likely also be recorded and distributed via podcast, so I'm thinking I need to limit my search to things in the public domain.

Gutenberg is a rabbit-hole of available content, so I'm looking for personal suggestions of really great short stories that lend themselves to being read aloud. Looking for as much variety of style and genre as possible. What stories would you love to hear read to you, if you were out at a pub on "story night"?

Tangential question: I know that there are many stories that are not in the public domain but are licensed under creative commons. For instance, Kelly Link's collection "Stranger Things Happen." Does the fact that it's licensed that way mean that it would be okay to perform/podcast? I don't fully understand CC, so any help you can give me there would be appreciated. Are there other CC-released short stories that would be doable in this format?
posted by jbickers to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Saki! I wish that H.H. Munro was better represented in short story readings.
I especially like "Shock Tactics"*, "Quail Seed", "Esmé", "Filboid Studge...", and "Morlvera".

Just delightful beyond belief and slightly dark. If you have someone who can do the appropriate accents, it is even better. I find, as an American, reading them is ok, but having a Brit read them to you really nails what he is doing with the cadence, timing and nuances.

*Even as I write that I am laughing out loud at the line “Are these letters imaginary?” screamed Mrs. Heasant; “what about the jewels, and Dagmar, and the theory of suicide?”.

Edited to add: You can find most of them here.
posted by Tchad at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here is the specific Creative Commons license for those Kelly Link short stories. My understanding is that you have the right to perform or podcast the story so long as you

-Attribute the story correctly and indicate it's being used under a Creative Commons license (the attribution requirements are listed on the page and are quite specific)

-Don't use the material for commercial purposes

-"If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original."
posted by Jeanne at 7:32 AM on January 29, 2014

  • Mark Twain
  • Ambrose Bierce
  • O. Henry
  • Finley Peter Dunne's Mr Dooley stories

posted by ubiquity at 7:33 AM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Came in to recommend Saki's "The Open Window," available through Gutenberg in the collection The Chronicles of Clovis (dedicated to a lynx kitten!).

There's a ghost story (available through Gutenberg in the collection Grim Tales) called "Man-Size in Marble," by E. Nesbit, that is just chilling. I believe Peter Yearsley read it for Librivox and he does a wonderful job.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:35 AM on January 29, 2014

"The Gift of the Magi" is one of my favorites to read out loud.
posted by themanwho at 8:59 AM on January 29, 2014

Edgar Allen Poe's short stories beg to be read aloud. Or is that too much of a cliché? If the macabre stories aren't to the audience's taste, try something on the lighter side, like "Never Bet the Devil Your Head." And even if they are, get them with something weird and out of the usual way, like "Berenice."

And who doesn't love Sholem Aleichem?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:07 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's very sad that 50s Sci-Fi is still under the ever lengthening copyright protections. That stuff would make some great reading. But HG Wells had some short stories, none have really stuck with me like The Monkeys Paw, or Poe stories over the years.
posted by DigDoug at 9:08 PM on January 29, 2014

Coming in to vote for some Saki, O.Henry, Twain, and Leacock.
I always loved Alan Maitland's reading of Saki's "Tobermory" - and Saki's other works crack me up just as much when I read them aloud myself.
Stephen Leacock's "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town" is another perennial favourite.
Older volumes of poetry are often wonderfully funny. I particularly enjoy don marquis' "archie and mehitabel".
The works of Robert W. Service, including "The Cremation of Sam McGee" are a Canadian staple- my Dad used to recite that one, and the Shooting of Dan Mcgrew regularly as bedtime stories. 6 year old me thought it was great and gory!
posted by NorthernAutumn at 11:33 PM on January 29, 2014

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