One Story Issue #277: ‘Pemi Aguda’s “Breastmilk”

Our new issue was acquired and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m handing over the intro mic so that he can make the introductions. Take it away, Will! — PR

’Pemi Aguda’s “Breastmilk” takes place in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria and the third largest city in Africa. As soon as Aduke’s husband, Timi, returns home from a business trip to the capital city Abuja, he confesses to committing adultery with his ex-girlfriend. But Timi is otherwise a good man—a rare Nigerian husband who eschews sexist gender roles—and Aduke promptly pardons him. They have passionate forgiveness sex, and thirty-eight weeks later, their first child, Fikayo, is born.

That’s where the trouble begins. Aduke finds herself unable to produce breastmilk, and she comes to believe the problem stems from her unresolved regret about letting Timi off the hook so easily. On top of that, Aduke fears she has betrayed the feminist values she inherited from her proud, activist mother. “Women suffer enough,” her mother says. “Don’t add man problem on top. Keep your shoes beside the door.”

I was drawn to “Breastmilk” by the raw honesty of Aduke’s voice and by the story’s vivid rendering of the early days of parenthood. Aduke’s fear is one that all parents will recognize—the fear of failing one’s newborn child. But for Aduke, that fear is compounded by her body’s refusal to comply with the demands of motherhood. It’s a fraught, heart-wrenching situation that Ms. Aguda explores with tremendous depth of feeling in pitch-perfect prose. We’re excited to be showcasing Ms. Aguda’s work in our pages, and we hope you find Aduke’s story as compelling as we did.

To read an interview with ‘Pemi Aguda about “Breastmilk,” please visit our website.

One Teen Story Issue #66: Elane Kim’s “Smorzando”

As 2020 was nearing its close, we received more than 450 entrees for One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest—the most we’ve ever received. They came in from teen writers ranging in age from 13-19, and we grouped them into three categories: 13-15, 16-17, and 18-19. Our goal, as always, was to pick a winner and runner-up in each category, and our team of dedicated contest readers set the process in motion by diving into one of our favorite shared activities: reading. It was heartening, indeed, to discover that not only had the teens been writing during a tumultuous year, but they’d also produced some powerful, moving stories.

We’re pleased to present to you the winner of our 13-15 age category: Elane Kim, who has written a quietly moving story called “Smorzando.”

“Smorzando” is about two sisters, Amy and Maya, who have lost their mother, live with their grandmother, and share a passion for playing the piano. As is often the case in stories about siblings, there is rivalry: Amy is more dedicated (at first); Maya is more talented. The fact that Maya is the younger of the two sisters isn’t lost on Amy, who does her best to tolerate her sister’s immaturity while struggling to accept that, no matter how immature she is, Maya will always be the better pianist. Add to this Amy’s desire, as the older sister, to help keep alive the memories they share of their mother, whom they both dearly miss.

Elane Kim has written a tender and utterly convincing story about these two girls at a challenging juncture of their lives. We hope you enjoy “Smorzando” as much as we did.

One Story Issue #276: Jackie Thomas-Kennedy’s “Extinction”

When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, and social distancing turned into lockdown, and lockdown turned into finding new ways to live and stay creative and sane, we at One Story began to anticipate the pandemic-related submissions we were bound to receive. As they started to come in, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was going to write a story about how weird we all became. What I mean is, consciously or not, we all had to reinvent our notions of interaction and intimacy. We all had to find new ways to lend emotional support, and we all had to find new ways to receive emotional support.

It wasn’t a smooth process, by any means. We were living in a world of constantly changing information, trying to cope with a global health crisis that immediately and bizarrely had become political. And as the spring of 2020 edged toward summer, everything became more challenging, more unsettling, more of a mirror held up to our faces, showing us ourselves in stark relief.

I’ve been a fan of Jackie Thomas-Kennedy’s writing for a long time, so I’m particularly thrilled to be presenting “Extinction” to you. This, in many ways, is the story I was wondering if someone was going to write: a story about how our world was (and still is) upended, and how it changed us not just in obvious ways but in subtle ways we might not even have been aware of. How do we make the best of things when a better version of our world is rapidly receding from our view, when distancing becomes isolation, and when we can’t trust ourselves to make the best choices? “Extinction” puts its finger on the pulse of our current lives. It’s both a story for our times and a story with staying power.

One Story Issue #275: Don Lee’s “Reenactments”

Don Lee’s “Reenactments” takes us to El Paso, Texas, where a Hollywood shoot-’em-up—a “pretty standard narco/border thriller,” as the narrator describes it—is being filmed. The on-location challenges include barking dogs, blistering heat, and fake, sugary blood that attracts fire ants. But the biggest challenge for Alain Kweon (an actor from Hawaii whose agent has convinced him to go by the professional name Alan Kwan) is a script filled with racial stereotypes, and the director who wrote it. Alain’s character, Mano Silencioso, has but a single line in the film. That line make no sense to Alain and, worse, the director wants him to deliver it in what a fellow cast member calls “the old I-rike-flied-lice accent.” It’s the biggest role of Alain’s career thus far, so he has to make a choice: dignity, or potential success in the industry?

This story knocked my socks off for a number of reasons. For one thing, it transported me onto a film set fraught with problems (I’ve got my own problems, but they don’t involve lying on the ground for hours in full sun while bugs eat through fake blood to get at my skin). For another, Alain’s conflict is palpable—and all the more so because the story is told in his voice. The main reason I fell in love with “Reenactments,” however, is because it’s so masterfully told. Don Lee is a writer who knows how to cut to the heart of difficult subject matter in an extremely honest, realistic, and entertaining way. I was leaning forward in my chair as I neared the end, hungry to find out what was going to happen.

One Story is delighted to be putting “Reenactments” into your hands. If you aren’t yet familiar with Don Lee’s writing, a wonderful discovery awaits you. And if you have a secret dream to become a villain in a shoot-’em-up, you might want to keep that dream to yourself (or, at the very least, make sure you have some say in both the script and the ingredients for the fake blood).

To read an interview with Don Lee about “Reenactments,” please visit our website.

One Story Issue #274: Anthony Varallo’s “Hey, Me”

Our new issue was procured and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m passing the mic over to him to make the introductions. Heeeerrrrre’s Will! — PR

The first thing that struck me about Anthony Varallo’s “Hey, Me” was the disarmingly honest and funny voice of his protagonist. Amy is a struggling college student whose professor has suggested that she jumpstart her incomplete English paper by recording voice memos. The story takes the unusual form of two such memos, recorded by Amy over the course of a few days as she procrastinates writing her paper and instead ruminates on her feelings about topics such as college life, authenticity, friendship, and toast. (Yes, Amy is a bit digressive.)

But mostly Amy’s feelings are focused on her professor, a new mother Amy yearns to connect with on a deeper level. At first Amy’s obsession with her professor seems quite sweet and innocent, but her monologue takes an unexpected turn when Amy reveals that she has stalked her professor multiple times, secretly following her around campus. I couldn’t help anticipating a dark outcome, but at the same time, I wondered how Mr. Varallo would pull off an ending that remained true to Amy’s character. (He didn’t disappoint.)

During my ten years at One Story, I’ve had the pleasure of editing some unforgettable voice-driven stories. Two that come to mind are Bonnie Jo Campbell’s hard-bitten “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters,” which we published back in 2015, and last year’s luminous “Fate and Ruin,” by Mary Grimm. I’m thrilled to be introducing another story worthy of that group, and I hope you enjoy having Amy bare her soul into your ears as much as I did.

Announcing the winners and runners-up of the 2021 Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2021 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! We received over 450 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: “Smorzando” by Elane Kim 

“Even now, I know how to make tragedies digestible. Maya is like Eomma in that she likes the stories with happy endings best, so I learn how to offer half-truths, how to angle the light so that the princess waves from her tower. I don’t show her the bound hands, or the curtains, or the audience.”

— Elane Kim, “Smorzando”

Runner-up: “Set of Cards” by Jacqueline Lan

Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “Dear Margot” by Shira Zur

“Autumn was always your favorite; you’d pull out your soft hoodies and sweatpants and sit on the sofa, drinking mint tea with honey in small sips, watching the leaves rustle in the wind outside. I would watch you from the kitchen and think you looked like a portrait waiting to be painted.” 

—Shira Zur, “Dear Margot”

Runner-up: “Footnotes on Chinese-American Girlhoods” by May Hathaway

Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “The Frame Between Us” by Ethan Luk

“The Honda Odyssey ripped through the night, soared on the highway, and suddenly, we were racing against the current of other cars. We shared a secret silently acknowledged: we were together and that was all that mattered.”

— Ethan Luk, “The Frame Between Us”

Runner-Up: “The Liar’s Game” by Sophie Sheumaker

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 2021. 

Support our mission to publish great teen fiction writers by donating or becoming a supporting member

One Story Issue #273: Stephen Fishbach’s “To Sharks”

Our new issue was procured and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m handing the rudder to Will to steer us toward it. Here’s his intro! — PR

Two months ago, while introducing a story involving the former San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, my colleague Patrick Ryan used this space to confess his ignorance of sports in general and baseball in particular. “I had no idea Tim Lincecum was a real person who used to pitch for the San Francisco Giants,” he wrote. “I didn’t even know there were San Francisco Giants.”

Now it’s my turn: Though I do know of the TV show Survivor, I have never watched an episode—despite the fact that it’s been around for 30+ seasons, despite the fact that it has come to define the reality TV genre, despite the fact that some of my friends are fans. It’s a gap in my cultural literacy that I just haven’t gotten around to filling, perhaps because I’m often watching baseball instead.

So when this month’s story crossed my desk, I was mostly clueless but intrigued. “To Sharks” follows the misadventures of Kent Duvall, a former contestant on a fictional reality TV show called Endure. Furthermore, the story’s author, Stephen Fishbach, competed in two seasons of Survivor

Since his last appearance on the show, in 2015, it turns out Mr. Fishbach has dedicated himself to the art of writing fiction. By contrast, his protagonist has struggled to move on from his brief time in the limelight. Twelve years after winning $100,000 on Endure, Kent finds himself out of shape, unemployed, and still clinging to his long-ago fifteen minutes of fame, but he gets to relive his former glory when he is invited to a charity event where worshipful, diehard fans mix and mingle with former reality TV contestants. Kent sees the event as a chance to jumpstart his life, and he angles to land a job working for a wealthy fellow Endure alum. Suffice it to say, things do not go as planned, and the ensuing events are as hilarious as they are sad.

Kent Duvall is a character I won’t soon forget, and I was also fascinated by the reality-TV fan subculture depicted in “To Sharks,” a world that Mr. Fishbach renders with ironic distance but also with insight and genuine compassion. We’re excited to be kicking off 2021 with his first published story, and we hope you enjoy it too.

Announcing the 2021
Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow:
Diana Veiga

Together with the Talve-Goodman family, One Story is pleased to announce our 2021 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow: Diana Veiga.

Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a DC Public Library employee. Her short stories have been published in Barrelhouse, The Northern Virginia Review, and The Rumpus. She is an inaugural member of Kimbilio, a Fellowship dedicated to developing, empowering and sustaining fiction writers from the African diaspora.  She is currently working on a collection of short stories that explore race and class in Washington, D.C. 

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. Previous winners of the Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship include Arvin Ramgoolam and Nay Saysourinho.

Finalists for the Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship will all receive two free online courses with One Story. Finalists for the 2021 Fellowship were:

*Yaba A. Armah

*A.J. Bermudez

*Jules Chung

*Philip Clapham

*Zora Mai Quỳnh

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 2022 Fellowship will open in September 2021.

Maaza Mengiste joins One Story

One Story is excited to announce the newest addition to our masthead: Contributing Editor Maaza Mengiste!

Photo: Nina Subin

Maaza Mengiste is the author of The Shadow King, shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, an LA Times Books Prize finalist, and a Best Book of 2019 by New York Times, NPR, Time, Elle, and other publications. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, her debut novel, was selected by the Guardian as one of the ten best contemporary African books.

Please join us in welcoming Maaza to the team!

OTS Issue #65: Gabriel Krawec’s “The Squatchers”

When I was nine years old, I went to the cinema and saw a very low-budget movie about Bigfoot. Because the movie was a documentary, I knew it was all true. Because I was nine, I had no idea that I was watching cheesy re-enactments of people’s encounters with the hairy maniac and thought it was all actual footage. As a result, I became obsessed with Bigfoot. I thought he could show up anytime, anywhere. I had difficulty falling asleep for a full year because I was convinced those oversized fists were going to crash through the window over my bed and grab me. Bigfoot strolling through a suburban neighborhood on the Florida coast seemed like a very real possibility to me.

I also started keeping an eye out for Bigfoot, and wouldn’t you know I saw him? Several times! Just a glimpse, but each time I dialed the police and reported the sighting, only to get very frustrated when the cops didn’t take me seriously.

So I was excited to encounter Gabriel Krawec’s “The Squatchers.” (The title is a reference to people who track Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch.) In this story, two teens meet up in the woods one night, both out with Squatching groups led by their obsessed fathers. One of these groups is out to observe; the other is out to kill. Neither group has ever seen a Sasquatch before—but that’s about to change.

“The Squatchers” is a funny and slightly sad story about what can happen to families in crisis. It’s also about how teens are sometimes a little wiser than their parents. This is the third and final winner of this year’s Teen Writing Contest, and we’re delighted to put Gabriel Krawec’s unusual tale into the hands of readers like you. We hope you enjoy it.