This Looks Like A Job for…SuperLative!

The new season of our reading series began with a BANG! We celebrated the publication of the new anthology Who Can Save Us Now? with a superhero-themed reading at Pianos on Friday, September 5th. The anthology, edited by Owen King and John McNally, features short stories about superheroes. Owen King (author of One Story Issue #85, “The Cure”), Kelley Braffet, and Stephanie Harrell (One Story Issue #60, “Girl Reporter”) read from their stories in the anthology. And the hard working One Story staff wore some colorful costumes. Hannah Tinti was Super Editor (who, as she pointed out, is a hero to some writers, a villain to others); Marie-Helene Bertino was the best Supergirl since Helen Slater retired the tights; webmaster Devin Emke dressed as a Super (because as New Yorkers know, a superintendent is often the only person who can save you); I was SuperLative (ready to triumph over mediocrity by making things that are just okay “the greatest!”); and Michael Pollock sported a homemade t-shirt that featured a drawing of a bowl of soup, the word “or,” and a submarine sandwich. “Soup or hero,” get it? You can listen to the reading here. Our next reading is next Friday the 12th when our own Hannah Tinti takes the mike to read from her acclaimed first novel, The Good Thief.

From blog

Devin Emke (aka “The Super”), Elliott Holt, (aka “Superlative”), Michael Pollock (aka “Soup-r-Hero”), Tanya Rey (aka “Superstar”), Marie-Helene Bertino (aka “Supergirl”), Hannah Tinti (aka “Super Editor”)

From blog

Our fearless readers: Kelly Braffet, Owen King & Stephanie Harrell

Superlative and Super Editor

Superlative and Super Editor

Issue #108: Foreign Girls

For issue #108, “Foreign Girls” by Tom Grattan, One Story staffer Elliott Holt acted as editor. She was responsible for bringing the story on board, and also taking it through the publishing process. So I’m happy to pass the hat over to her for a proper introduction to this fantastic story. -HT

In Questions of Travel, Elizabeth Bishop asks, “Should we have stayed at home,/wherever that may be?” I thought of Bishop’s poem while reading Thomas Grattan’s story of estrangement, “Foreign Girls.”

I have been a foreign girl. In Amsterdam, where I lived in my late twenties. In London, where a job took me in my mid-twenties. And I was a foreign girl in Moscow, too, where I moved right after college. I was teaching English and typed up the lyrics to The Times They Are A-Changin’ for my students. It was 1997, and the times were a-changin’ in Russia, but the people in my classroom weren’t interested in Bob Dylan. They wanted to learn the vocabulary words that would help them navigate the high seas of capitalism. “Is it true,” asked one of my students, a filmmaker who was about my age, “that Americans don’t read?” “I read,” I said. I was happy to finally be in a place that valued literacy above all else (or so I thought). But I think my answer disappointed him. He wanted an authentic American specimen, not an apparent anomaly like me.

My estrangement goes even farther back than that, of course. Like most sensitive, bookish people I know, I felt utterly foreign as an adolescent. Then I spent my twenties as an expat, trying to find a place where I’d feel more at home, until I realized—like so many foreign girls and boys before me—that my sense of exile had more to do with who I was than where I lived. Needless to say, Thomas Grattan’s story resonated with me (as I am sure it will with many readers), and it was my pleasure to act as guest editor for this issue.

“Foreign Girls” is a story about a German woman, Lore, in Albany, New York, who befriends her Georgian (as in former Soviet Georgian) tenant. Nino, with her crazy fur coat and constant laughter, is literally pregnant with possibility. In her, Lore sees a chance to feel needed, to feel more connected. But the friendship, like so many that are formed on foreign soil, is transient and doomed to fail. Because the story takes place in Lore’s own home—a house that she and her husband have lived in for years—her isolation is even sadder. Lore is not completely at home anywhere, and in the restrained narrative tone, the author evokes Lore’s distance from her surroundings. It’s a lovely, subtle story, and one in which the characters are so fully realized that I found myself thinking about them long after I finished reading. Many of us read and write to feel less foreign, more connected, or to get “a boost from the language,” as Joseph Brodsky said. One can only hope that Lore finds something as sustaining as literature to save her from alienation. To read an interview with Thomas Grattan about this story, check out the Q&A. And please feel free to share your own stories about feeling foreign. I suspect there are a lot of foreign girls among us.

One Story: Among the Best in New York

The L Magazine named the “best of New York City” in various categories, including the “Best Short Stories Published by NYC Publications”. First on the list? One Story issue #102, “What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us” by Laura van den Berg. The other three stories were in The New Yorker, Harper’s and A Public Space. You can order copies of the issue here.

Andrew Foster Altschul reads for One Story

Friday, June 13th was our last reading before our summer hiatus–our next event is in September–and miraculously, it was sunny. Not a cloud in sight. There were, however, hoards of people lined up on Ludlow Street when I was on my way to Pianos at about six o’clock; turns out a local business was having a tattoo sale (presumably a recession strategy) and the crowds were waiting for the needles. I opted for some body art of my own–a One Story temporary tattoo in honor of our reading. We were delighted to welcome Andrew Foster Altschul all the way from San Francisco. Andrew is the author of One Story issue #62, The Rules, and the dazzling new novel, Lady Lazarus. He read two crowd-pleasing sections from his book, and if you missed it, you can listen to the reading here. Our next reading is on September 5th and will feature a superhero costume contest in honor of Owen King’s new superhero anthology. Start thinking about your costumes. I’ll be dressed as Super Delegate.

Andrew Foster Altschul chats with his editor

Andrew Foster Altschul chats with his editor

One Story intern Chris Gregory models a temporary One Story tattoo

One Story intern Chris Gregory models a temporary One Story tattoo as he flexes his literary muscles

Andrew Foster Altschul dazzles the crowd with his prose

Andrew Foster Altschul dazzles the crowd with his prose

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008

The latest edition of the O. Henry Prize Stories is in stores now. Among the winners is the wondrous Alice Munro for a story from The American Scholar called “What Do You Want to Know For?”, William Gass for a story called “A Little History of Modern Music” from Conjunctions, and Alexi Zentner for “Touch” from Tin House (three delicious stories that I devoured yesterday in Prospect Park.) There are also stories by other great writers such as Yiyun Li, William Trevor, Mary Gaitskill, Edward P. Jones and Steven Millhauser. Among the seven recommended stories that weren’t chosen for the collection is One Story issue #89, Irina Reyn’s “The Wolf Story.” These recommended stories are excerpted on the O. Henry Prize Stories website. Congratulations, Irina!

Ben Miller reads for One Story

Friday, April 4th was a very special One Story reading because Ben Miller (author of One Story issue #7, The Man in Blue Green) gave every guest a special “Dronx Citizenship Kit.” The goodie bag contained a map of the Dronx (the sixth borough of New York that is the setting for Ben’s new book, Meanwhile in the Dronx…) as well as a book of fantastic drawings by Dale Williams, who illustrated Ben’s novel, and skeleton keys to the city. Dale also hung copies of his illustrations on the walls of the lounge at Pianos. The Dronx may have been invented by Ben Miller, but after hearing him read a few hilarious sections of the book, this “decrepit purgatorial refuge for citizens who have failed to succeed in the other five boroughs” (as Ben describes it) started to sound familiar. Maybe some of us have been living there along? You can listen to Ben’s excellent reading here.

The Dronx Citizenship Kit

The Dronx Flag, with motto: “If At All Possible…Please, Please Try Not to Tread on Me.”

Dronx Art by Dale Williams

Ben Miller reads Dronx tales of ice picks and tiny feet

The Story Prize

(Lam, Shepard & Hadley share a drink after the event)For those of us who write short stories but are under constant pressure to write novels because story collections don’t sell, The Story Prize is a welcome reminder that short fiction still matters to some people. The Story Prize gives $20,000 to the author of an outstanding story collection published in English during the previous year. This year’s three finalists, selected by Story Prize director Larry Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsey were Sunstroke and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam, and Like You’d Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard. On Wednesday, February 27th, at an award ceremony at The New School, literati gathered to hear each of the three finalists read an excerpt from one of their stories and then join Larry Dark on stage for a short conversation about their work. It was like being at a story writers’ version of the Oscars, where, instead of Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep, the dazzling stars in attendance included Amy Hempel, Jayne Anne Phillips and David Gates (who was a judge this year.) One Story Editor Hannah Tinti, Managing Editor Pei-Ling Lue and I were in the audience to savor every word. Any of these three phenomenal collections would have been worthy of the prize, but this year’s winner is Jim Shepard (who read for One Story on January 4th.) Jim’s acceptance speech was so generous in its praise of the other two collections that it was a reminder that every great writer is also a great reader. And speaking of reading, if you haven’t read these three collections, buy them now. You won’t be disappointed. To see a webcast of the entire event, go here.

Amelia Kahaney reads for One Story

March 7th was another rainy night in New York City, which made those of us who work for One Story wonder why it always rains during our readings. Is there something about rain and short fiction that go together? Feel free to share your thoughts. Luckily, the wet weather couldn’t put out Amelia Kahaney’s fire. A large crowd gathered at Pianos to see Amelia read from One Story issue 98, “Fire Season.” The story is stunning (the Luna Park Review is “in awe of” Kahaney’s fiction debut) and most of the audience realized that. There was one disrepectful patron who chose to talk on his cell phone for much of the reading. And because the rude dude was sitting right next to the mike, his chatter was distracting. But Amelia was poised and kept reading beautifully. Click on our audio archive to hear the story.

Colson Whitehead reads for One Story

On Friday, February 8th, Colson Whitehead came to Pianos to read a hilarious chapter from his latest novel (as yet untitled) which will be published next spring. You can listen to the reading here but I warn you that it will a) make you hungry and b) make you think about gerunds in a whole new way. In my introduction, I attempted to sound intelligent by comparing the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (something I’ve been following very closely lately) to the one between the Empiricists and the Intuitionists. If you’ve read Colson’s first novel, The Intuitionist, you know that those are the two factions of the Department of Elevator Inspectors: the first group relies on rigorous by-the-book analysis while the second operates mostly by instinct. In Colson’s vividly imagined detective story, the Empiricists are threatened by the star Intuitionist, Lila Mae Watson, whose impeccable inspection record defies their plodding methods. It’s a measure of the book’s brilliance that it has become a lens through which I view the current fight for the Democratic nomination, but it remains to be seen which faction of the Democratic party will be going all the way to the top.
One Story reading series coordinator Elliott Holt & Colson WhiteheadColson uses a “visual aid” while reading“Visual Aid” close-up [You’ll have to listen to the reading to understand]The crowd at Pianos is entranced

Jim Shepard reads for One Story

 Jim Shepard & Lillian Nave Goudas, President of the Lenoir Book Club (thanks for the photo, Lillian!)Pianos was packed on Friday, January 4th when National Book Award-finalist Jim Shepard took the stage to read from his latest story collection, Like You’d Understand, Anyway. Jim read an excerpt of “Pleasure Boating at Lituya Bay,” and you can listen to it here. I love Jim Shepard’s stories because they make me laugh out loud and then, when I least expect it, they take a nose dive into emotional truth and make my heart explode.