Issue #250: Matthew Lansburgh’s “Latvian Angel”

Our new issue was procured by contributing editor Will Allison. Here’s Will to introduce you to “Latvian Angel.” — PR

I’ve always been a sucker for stories in which characters write letters to each other. As a literary device, the epistle is deceptively simple. Letters are a form of first-person narration, allowing characters to bypass a story’s principal narrator and speak for themselves. The catch—the interesting part—is that letter writers tend to be unreliable first-person narrators, misrepresenting themselves in order to influence the letter’s recipient.

I’ve always been a sucker for stories in which characters write letters to each other. As a literary device, the epistle is deceptively simple. Letters are a form of first-person narration, allowing characters to bypass a story’s principal narrator and speak for themselves. The catch—the interesting part—is that letter writers tend to be unreliable first-person narrators, misrepresenting themselves in order to influence the letter’s recipient.

I’ve always been a sucker for stories in which characters write letters to each other. As a literary device, the epistle is deceptively simple. Letters are a form of first-person narration, allowing characters to bypass a story’s principal narrator and speak for themselves. The catch—the interesting part—is that letter writers tend to be unreliable first-person narrators, misrepresenting themselves in order to influence the letter’s recipient.

The letters in our latest issue, Matthew Lansburgh’s “Latvian Angel,” offer a fun case in point. Klara Ozols is a poor Latvian villager, born with wings on her back, who seeks a better life by advertising herself as a mail-order bride. Ezra Vogel is a lonely Long Island accountant in search of a wife. When Ezra answers Klara’s ad, the two strike up a long-distance correspondence full of cagey spin. Will Klara’s letters convince Ezra that she is the woman of his dreams? Will Ezra’s letters convince Klara that he is the wealthy, handsome, kind suitor he claims to be?

If you’ve read Lansburgh’s terrific debut, Outside Is the Ocean, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, then you know his stories offer up a delicious blend of humor, love, and sexuality, with sympathetic characters often undone by their own wayward desires. “Latvian Angel” is no exception. We’re excited to finally showcase Lansburgh’s first-rate storytelling and sparkling prose in the pages of One Story.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

Save the Date: Our Literary Debutante Ball is on 5/16

Our annual Literary Debutante Ball celebrates One Story authors who are publishing their first books.

This year, we’re also honoring a past One Story author who has gone on to make a significant contribution to literature and the literary community. The 2019 Distinguished Alumni is Kelly Link, who published with One Story in 2005.

Kelly Link is the author of the collections Get in Trouble (a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction), Magic for BeginnersStranger Things Happen, and Pretty Monsters. Her short stories have been published in Tin HouseA Public SpaceMcSweeney’sThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science FictionThe Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. In 2018, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. She was born in Miami, Florida, and currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.

We’ll be honoring Kelly along with our Literary Debutantes on Thursday, May 16th, 2019 at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn. Tickets will go on sale March 1st.

Photo by Sharona Jacobs Photography LLC

OTS #57: Brayden Mekertichian’s “Burning, in You”

Amazing things happen in Brayden Mekertichian’s “Burning, in You.” In a series of short, powerful sections, we’re swept through seven years in the life of a young woman, from the age of thirteen to the age of twenty. We’re with her when she’s high, we’re with her when she’s low, and we’re with her when she’s lower than low. And yet, somehow, there’s humor in this story. There’s bravado peppered with fear. Confusion salted with insight. It’s a portrait in mosaic of what can occur when a young person’s self-image, sense of self-worth, and tendencies towards self-indulgence collide. The gaps are enormous. The ending is mysterious. The emotional import is colossal. I admire this story as much for what it leaves out as for what it includes, and we’re delighted to honor it as one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

Issue #249: Chris Vanjonack’s “Phases”

Is it bad form for a ghost to look over your shoulder while you’re typing an email? Do ghosts need therapy? How do ghosts have sex? These are the kinds of questions that rolled around in Chris Vanjonack’s head before he started writing “Phases.” Henry, the story’s narrator, had an unfortunate encounter with a lightning bolt sometime back. Now, his “life” consists of wandering the planet, walking through walls, and watching his ex-girlfriend get over him. And dating—sort of.

Henry is lonely but surrounded by other ghosts. He’s impatient but not even sure what he’s waiting for. And for all his mobility and freedom, he’s overwhelmed by limitations. As the author states in our Q&A, ghostdom, as he imagined it, became “a potent metaphor for depression, or for ennui, or loneliness, or even aging. No one can see me. I can’t make a difference. I don’t feel the way I used to. I can’t feel anything.” But don’t be misled. “Phases” is no downer. In fact, it’s charged with wit and humor, and it’s fueled by a voice packed with charm. There’s a forward lean to the earnestness in Chris Vanjonack’s writing, and it shines through in this story. We’re delighted to welcome him into the One Story family.

Announcing the Winners of our 2019 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2019 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! We received nearly 300 entries from teen writers across the globe, and narrowing it down was no easy feat. Each winner will receive $500 and publication in a forthcoming issue of One Teen Story.

Ages 13 – 15

Winner: “Press Space to Continue” by Carlie Schwarm

“A door. A looming gateway to perilous adventures. Once going through that door, there was no telling what would happen to him.”

— Carlie Schwarm, “Press Space to Continue”

Runner-up: “Every Breath a Love Song” by Jenny Hu

Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “And the War Stopped” by Emma Caton

“But with his family in his mind and Otto’s fingers against his wrist, he doesn’t think he could ever be happier in this war.”

—Emma Caton, “And the War Stopped”

Winner: “Cicatriz” by Juliet Cushing

“Words landed and stuck, merged into feeling, took off again, formed a chain, landed, and I created a hope that we might be twins of each other’s secrets.”

—Juliet Cushing, “Cicatriz”

Runner-up: “Desensitization” by Helen Qian

Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “Free” by Kara Molnar

“Spencer wished he could do the same: suspend his life while he still danced, free to do what he loved without worrying about the inevitable ending.”

— Kara Molnar, “Free”

Runner-Up: “November” by Maia McGaw

Subscribe to One Story or One Teen Story in print or on your mobile device to read the winners’ stories throughout the year.

Our next Teen Writing Contest will take place in fall 2019.

Congratulations to the winners and runners-up!

Issue #249: Uche Okonkwo’s “Our Belgian Wife”

Contributing Editor Will Allison acquired and edited our latest issue, Uche Okonkwo’s “Our Belgian Wife,” so the pleasure of introducing it goes to him. The floor is yours, Mr. Allison! –PR

The story in our latest issue hit home for me as a parent. My sixteen-year-old daughter and I are currently negotiating the fraught dance that is a child’s transition to independence. My daughter is already very much her own person, but the impulse is still there for me to meddle in her affairs, to try to solve her problems and fix her mistakes.

The Nigerian mothers in Uche Okonkwo’s “Our Belgian Wife” suffer from the same misguided impulse. Marigold, an impoverished widow, only wants what’s best for her daughter, Udoka, and Marigold’s friend Agatha only wants what’s best for her estranged expatriate son, Uzor. So the two mothers conspire to arrange a marriage between their children.

Never mind that Udoka and Uzor are young adults, capable of managing their own affairs. Never mind that they don’t know each other. Never mind that Udoka is busy pursing a college degree. And never mind that she is already engaged to Enyinna, a devoted but poor shopkeeper. As I watched the mothers’ meddling spiral out of control, I was reminded of times I’ve tried to engineer good outcomes for my own daughter when all she wanted was for me to butt out. And I was reminded that things rarely went as I planned. I can only hope that I will have learned my lesson by the time my daughter is Udoka’s age. In the meantime, I invite you to join me in appreciating the humor and heartbreak that Okonkwo’s all-too-human characters wreak upon each other, and in welcoming a strong and distinctive new voice to our pages.

To read an interview with Uche Okonkwo, visit the stories section on our website.

Adina Talve-Goodman 2019 Fellow: Nay Saysourinho

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Together with the Talve-Goodman family, One Story is pleased to announce our 2019 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow: Nay Saysourinho.

Nay Saysourinho has received fellowships from Kundiman and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She is an alumna of Tin House Summer Workshop. The daughter of Lao refugees who immigrated to Montréal in the late 70’s, she writes about food, memories and post-colonialism. Her writing can be found in the Funambulist Magazine and The Margins. She is currently working on her first novel.

The finalists for the 2019 Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship were:

  • Senaa Ahmad
  • Carrie Moore
  • Alejandro Puyana
  • Shannon Sanders

The Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship was created in memory of One Story’s former managing editor, the writer Adina Talve-Goodman. This fellowship offers a year-long mentorship on the craft of fiction writing with One Story magazine, and is given to an emerging writer whose work speaks to issues and experiences related to inhabiting bodies of difference. This means writing that explores being in a body marked by difference, oppression, violence, or exclusion; often through categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, illness, disability, trauma, migration, displacement, dispossession, or imprisonment.

One Story is grateful to the Talve-Goodman Family, all of the friends and organizations who helped spread the word about this fellowship, and the many talented writers who took the leap and shared their work with us. Applications for our 2020 Fellow will open in September 2019.

Issue #247: Christopher Santantasio’s “Persistence”

Our new issue was selected and edited by contributing editor Will Allison. Take it away, Will! — PR

The first time I read “Persistence,” by Christopher Santantasio, I was reminded of one of my favorite novels, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, in which the narrator is guilt-ridden over his failure to help a childhood friend fifty years earlier. As a reader, I have rarely encountered such a profound sense of regret on the page, and as a writer, I continue to be inspired by it.

Maxie, the narrator of “Persistence,” is haunted by a similarly powerful guilt. In 1960, when Maxie was twelve, her mother died, and she moved with her father to a small town in upstate New York. Maxie’s life in Clyde’s Creek was not a happy one. The only bright spots were the piano lessons she received from her teacher and time spent with her sole friend, Honey.

Honey’s life was no picnic either. As Maxie came to learn, Honey suffered severe abuse at the hands of her domineering older brother, Hubert. And as the only person who knew Honey’s secret, Maxie was the only person who could help. However, exposing Honey’s secret threatened to upend Maxie’s life as well. Suffice it to say that the choices Maxie made failed Honey entirely.

Like the narrator of So Long, See You Tomorrow, Maxie understands that her childhood actions were driven not by malice or heartlessness so much as by fear, confusion, and a child’s limited understanding of the world. Even so, Maxie struggles to come to terms with her behavior. In reading about this struggle, I found myself haunted by some of my own childhood mistakes, and I bet you will too. I also hope you’ll agree that Santantasio, despite being new on the literary scene, captures Maxie’s guilt with a sensitivity and depth that would make William Maxwell proud.

To read an interview with the author, visit the “Persistence” page on our website.

A Message About Our May 2018 Issue

In late September, One Story, Inc. was contacted by a writer concerned about similarities between a story she had submitted to One Story and a piece One Story had recently published, written by a former volunteer reader for the magazine. One Story, Inc. immediately launched a review and is currently evaluating all aspects of the situation and soliciting outside advice. At this point in the process, we decided a public statement was merited.

One Story, Inc. is a small, Brooklyn-based non-profit literary publisher. Our flagship magazine, One Story, receives approximately 10,000-12,000 short story submissions each year. From these submissions, One Story selects 12 stories to publish. One Story relies on volunteer readers (about 10-12 people) to aid the editors in this winnowing process. Readers are assigned 15 stories per week to read and are required to send at least one story each week to an editor for additional review.

While One Story readers are volunteers, there is an application process for these positions. Applicants are evaluated both on their ability to identify work suitable for the magazine and their ability to discuss the work of others with sensitivity and kindness. One Story readers meet with the editorial team on a bimonthly basis and often volunteer to assist One Story, Inc. staff in running public events.

Sara Batkie joined One Story, Inc. in May 2009 as a summer intern. When her internship was complete, she remained a part of the One Story team, donating her time as a reader and volunteer until August of 2016.

Since its founding in 2002, One Story’s policy is not to publish writing by any current editors, volunteers, or readers. However, the magazine does allow former volunteers and readers to submit their work for evaluation after a waiting period of at least one year.

In the fall of 2017, Batkie submitted her short story “Departures” to Patrick Ryan, editor in chief of One Story. This story was accepted for publication and published by One Story in May 2018.

On Sept. 25, 2018, One Story, Inc. was contacted by a submitter to the magazine, Sarah Jane Cody, who was concerned about similarities between a story she had submitted to One Story in December 2015, titled “An Invitation,” and Sara Batkie’s short story “Departures.”

After checking our database and records, One Story discovered that Sara Batkie had been a reader for Sarah Jane Cody’s story, “An Invitation.” These records indicated that after reading Cody’s submission, Batkie forwarded the story to One Story’s editors for additional evaluation. The editors decided to decline the story, and a message was sent to Sarah Jane Cody on April 21, 2016, with an encouraging note and a request to send more work.

While One Story, Inc. cannot speak to intentionality and while some circumstances remain unclear, the similarities in plot, aforementioned timeline, and conversations with both writers have led us to take Sarah Jane Cody’s concern very seriously.

The submission process for any literary magazine involves trust. Trust on the part of the magazine that writers are submitting their own original work, and trust on the part of the writers that the magazine will evaluate their work fairly and treat it with respect. One Story exists because of that trust.

We expect it may take some time before we have a full understanding of this matter. In the meantime, One Story will be suspending any additional sales or promotion of “Departures.”

We would like to thank Sarah Jane Cody for bringing this matter to our attention. We know it could not have been easy to do so.

One Story is grateful to all our readers, writers, donors, and submitters for the trust and support they have given to us over the years. We hope to continue to earn and strengthen that trust as we move forward.

Sincerely,

Maribeth Batcha & Hannah Tinti
One Story Co-Founders

To contact One Story about this matter, please email mbatcha@one-story.com.

OTS 56: Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna”

It’s always a pleasure to read submissions for our Teen Writing Contest. And it’s an extra pleasure to be taken to a time and place I’ve never been before. In the case of our new issue of One Teen Story, the time is 1945, and the place is war-torn Vienna. Tobias and Franz are riders in training at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. An evacuation is underway. Bombs are falling from the sky.

That’s already enough to have me on the edge of my seat. To complicate things further, the only manner of quickly and safely evacuating the horses is by train, and most conductors aren’t willing to pull a train through an air raid to save a bunch of horses.

The ability to create believable tension in a short story is admirable; the ability to sustain it to the end is something to be celebrated. One Teen Story is very proud to be presenting Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna” to the world of readers. You’ll never look at a Lipizzaner stallion the same way again!