Our next issue of One Story takes us back in time to 1786. Set in Lituya Bay, Naomi Williams’s “Snow Men” concerns the La Pérouse expedition, told through the eyes of a young girl of the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska. I always enjoy stories that tap into history, and “Snow Men” is meticulously researched (read Naomi’s Q&A with us to hear more about her process). But what drew me the most to this piece was how it went beyond the “first contact” stories I was familiar with and shifted the focus, so that instead of highlighting the damage white explorers brought to native populations, the story turned instead into a meditation on loss and mourning in different cultures. “Snow Men” is part of a cycle of stories that Naomi Williams is working on, all concerning the La Pérouse expedition. I’m very excited to see how the collection comes together. “Snow Men” was recently performed by actress Cynthia Mitchell Speakman as part of Sacramento’s Stories on Stage series. I’m sure it was the first stop of many for Naomi Williams, and I’m happy to welcome this talented new writer to our pages.
At One Story, we are consistently amazed by the talent contained on our editorial staff, in Brooklyn in general, and on some wine-soaked evenings, THE WORLD AT LARGE. So, we were not suprised to hear of a new venture one of our illustrious editorial assistants Michael Pollock has undertaken. He and his friends have launched a super cool website called Low Log. Low Log is described as “dedicated to a discussion of all topics falling under the categories of headlines, life and art.”
What’s different about this site is its friendly layout and readability; its smart, down to earth commentary. Refreshing at a time when everyone and their cat has a blog or a Twitter account. Low Log’s layout makes it easy to jump from an article about a mother’s advice on cold weather to a discussion of the pros and cons of the Kindle. As easy as, say, a frog jumps from log to log. Is Low Log named after this propensity? Do frogs even jump from log to log? And, is Michael Pollock’s middle name really JACKSON, as he insists?
Last week at The New York Society Library reading, a gentleman by the name of Amin Ahmad approached Hannah and me and told us that One Story is the reason he and his wife had gotten together. Naturally, we were all ears.
Anyone that knows the One Story staff, or watched us deliver valentines in wings at the AWP conference last year, can attest to the fact that we here are fans of love. So we asked Amin to write his story, just in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s a great story, and we feel honored to be a part of it.
We sat on a wooden bench, drinking tea and looking at the dark river. It was very hot; the woman I’d just met was sweating, and so was I, but it was impossible to acknowledge that fact. It seemed like a typical first date, full of polite questions and silences. Yet it wasn’t.
The personals ad she’d placed on-line was a list of her favorite authors. A strange mixture: Neruda, Paz, Murakami, Marquez. Exactly the same books I lived by, all the paperbacks I’d read on sleepy afternoons in India. I replied to her, and the emails started flying. At work, I set aside blueprints in order to write to her. We branched off into poetry. I sent her my favorite poems by William Carlos Williams, she introduced me to Sharon Olds. We were two people thirsty for literary conversation. Underlying it all was the unasked question- would we actually meet?
I was busy at work. She was just finishing law school. Six long weeks passed. I held my breath and told her what I had withheld: that I was already married. I had no business writing to her. My marriage was desperately unhappy, a complete mismatch, but I had a four-year old son, and wasn’t going anywhere. She didn’t flinch. This fact seemed unrelated to the conversation we were having, about books and stories and poems. It seemed inconceivable that our conversation—so far removed from real life—would end.
We decided to meet, once. Almost as though to get it over with. I’d imagined her to be a tall, blonde woman, wearing Birkenstocks, recently returned from the Peace Corps. (Where else would she have developed such a taste for Latin American authors?) She turned out to be an African-American woman with curly hair she wore severely pulled back. She’d imagined that I was tall and had a ponytail and wore dark clothes. I turned out to be short, with neatly parted hair and wore a pale cotton shirt.
So there we were on the park bench, afraid to look at each other. We sipped our too-hot teas and sweated and looked out into the darkness. It was soon time for us to go. We got up from the bench, our clothes sticking to our skins.
Outside the Harvard Bookstore we prepared to part, making the non-committal noises of people who are never going to see each other again. Misery mixed in with relief. Within a few minutes this poetic, literary woman was going to vanish into the bright lights of the bookstore. The kind of woman I’d been dreaming about my whole life. But that’s what it was: a dream.
Before she left, she opened her handbag and took out a small, plain looking pamphlet with a blue cover.
“Hey,” she said. “I almost forgot. I brought this for you. Have you read it? This one is pretty good. You can borrow it.”
I thanked her for the pamphlet, and read it on the train home. It was a magazine I’d never heard of before, with a single story in it. Something about a man whose job it is to imagine worst case scenarios. The story was so ingenious it made me laugh.
I had borrowed the pamphlet from her, so I had to return it. We met again, an easier meeting this time. The months passed, and we walked all over town, talking and talking. The heat dissipated, gave way to the crisp air of Fall, and we were still at it. Every month the small pamphlet with its single story arrived. She took them out of her handbag with a solemn air, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I carried them around, creased and crumpled, easily hidden, like the emotions that flowed between the two of us.
The One Storys kept coming each month, through the years that followed: the ghastly years of my divorce, a terrible sickness, years when we clung to each other. Then, like the imperceptible change of seasons, we were on the other side of it, married, living a life we hadn’t dared to dream of.
Now, when the story comes each month, we each read it separately. It’s only when we’re outside that one of us will say, “So what did you think…”, and we’re off, doing what we do best, walking and talking, talking, talking.
For those that were unable to attend the New York Society Library Event last week, The New Yorker blogged about it here. A few of us from One Story were lucky enough to experience Terese Svodoba reading from the current issue of One Story, “Bomb Jockey” (Issue 130). In the sophisticated surroundings of the New York Society Library, Terese’s stately voice and graceful charm gave her story a new dimension for me. Check out the interview with her here.
John Wray, who read his fascinating illustrated story about underground New York from A Public Space, and Cathy Park Hong, who amused with her lyrical lipograms and Western ballads from Jubilat, were also spectacular. The New York Society Library deserves kudos for devoting time to young literary magazines in their revered space.
One Story author Dani Shapiro has a fantastic essay in today’s LA Times, talking about how to “endure” as a writer today. She starts off by quoting legendary editor & founder of New American Review, Ted Solotaroff:
“Solotaroff wondered where all the talented young writers he had known or published when he was first editing New American Review had gone. Only a few had flourished. Some, he speculated, had ended up teaching, publishing occasionally in small journals. But most had just . . . given up. “It doesn’t appear to be a matter of talent itself,” he wrote. “Some of the most natural writers, the ones who seemed to shake their prose or poetry out of their sleeves, are among the disappeared. As far as I can tell, the decisive factor is what I call endurability: that is, the ability to deal effectively with uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment, from within as well as from without.”
She goes on to discuss how today’s writers often focus more on publishing than actually writing:
The 5,000 students graduating each year from creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score. And why not? They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn’t reward persistence, that doesn’t see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn’t trust in the process but only the outcome. As an acquaintance recently said to me: “So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?”
Dani Shapiro, author of One Story issue #69 (“The Six Poisons”, Jan 2006), will be on the Today show this Friday! She’ll be talking about her new book, Devotion, a memoir of spiritual and personal exploration. Dani’s story in One Story was also about yoga and meditation; be sure to check out her Q&A on our site. Dani’s novel is getting some very nice reviews from the likes of Publishers Weekly, which writes, “An insightful and penetrating memoir that readers will instantly identify with…Absorbing, intimate, direct and profound, Shapiro’s memoir is a satisfying journey that will touch fans and win her plenty of new ones.” So be sure to tune in to the Today Show to hear more about Devotion. Congrats, Dani!
Ted Geoway (who edits the Virginia Quarterly Review) has an article in the January/ February 2010 issue of Mother Jones on The Death of the Short Story which had some thought-provoking comments on literary journals and writers.
While certainly there is much to be mourned in the cutting of fiction from some larger magazine publications, overall there is a great deal of exciting work being done by literary journals and small presses. Here at One Story we stand by our mission to give our readers fiction that is both thought-provoking and enjoyable.
Congrats to One Story author Allison Amend (issue # 13, Stations West), for her heart-wrenching Modern Love article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Alone on a Path Shared By Many”, about living with Turner Syndrome. Be on the look out for Allison’s novel, Stations West (based on her One Story story) in March 2010, and be sure to pick up her fabulous collection, Things That Pass for Love.