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!

Jinwoo Chong and Manuel Gonzales join One Story

One Story is thrilled to announce two new additions to our team: Jinwoo Chong, our new Editorial Assistant, and Manuel Gonzales, our new Contributing Editor.

Jinwoo Chong is an MFA candidate for fiction at Columbia University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in CRAFT, Salamander, Tahoma Literary Review, The Forge, No Contact, and others. He serves as fiction editor for Columbia Journal.

Manuel Gonzales is the author of The Miniature Wife and Other Stories (Riverhead, 2012), winner of the Sue Kaufmann Prize for First Fiction and the John Gardner Prize for Fiction, and the novel, The Regional Office is Under Attack! (Riverhead, 2016), winner of an Alex Award from the YALSA, and he remembers with great excitement, even fourteen years later, the day Hannah Tinti reached out to tell him the editors at One Story would like to publish his story. He currently teaches creative writing and literature at Bennington College and is a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. 

Please join us in welcoming Jinwoo and Manuel to the One Story family!

One Story Receives Whiting Literary Magazine Prize

We are thrilled to announce that One Story is the recipient of a 2020 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize. The $60,000 prize, awarded over the next three years, will be used to build capacity and strengthen One Story’s impact in the lead-up to our twentieth anniversary.

From the judges’ citation: “Over the last two decades, One Story has become a standard-bearer for elegance in magazine publishing; each lithe issue, its design an homage to zine culture, contains a single riveting short story. This form is often likened to the sonnet, being short and perfectible, but the fictions in One Story create sumptuous, almost novelistic worlds. The magazine has assiduously built a warm and vital community of writers and mentors.  Favoring new and untested writers and never publishing the same one twice, One Story is a critical port of arrival.”

The Whiting Literary Magazine Prizes acknowledge, reward, and encourage organizations that actively nurture the writers who tell us, through their art, what is important. Four other journals received the 2020 prize: Conjunctions, Foglifter, Kweli, and Nat. Brut. We are excited to share this honor with them. Read more about the prizes and the winners here.

My Own Third Blended Thing: An Interview with Ayşe Papatya Bucak

Though our 2020 Literary Debutante Ball has been postponed, we’re still promoting the work of our incredible 2020 Debs. We hope you consider supporting Ayşe Papatya Bucak, and all the authors who are releasing books during this challenging time, by purchasing their books.

The Trojan War Museum is a collection of short stories that explores myriad imaginative intersections between East and West, history and memory, myth and fact, and collective and personal identity. In “Good Fortune”—also published in One Story’s issue #255—a birth-tourism destination hotel in Florida is plagued by a series of threatening letters. The displacement and pain of an Armenian refugee is “performed” for an American fundraiser audience in “The Dead,” and in “The History of Girls,” a group of dead girls buried under the rubble of their school communicate with the ones still living. Each of the collection’s ten stories portrays a distinct and rich world, told with both grandness and humility, humor and grace.

Talia Aharoni: Where were you when you found out The Trojan War Museum was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Ayşe Papatya Bucak: I was at a writing residency, Willapa Bay AIR, which is on the West Coast. My phone rang really early in the morning and it was my agent. My heart pretty much stopped. After she told me Norton wanted to buy the book, I tried to call my mom, but she wasn’t home, so I wandered out of my cabin and over to the main dining room. Another writer, a poet named Amy Sailer, was there and she will forever be the first person I told and the first person to give me a big hug. The other residents, who I consider dear friends now, bought me sparkling soda and a chocolate bar and made me a card. It was actually kind of amazing to be among near-strangers and away from home, yet amongst a group of people who absolutely understood how important it was for me and who made it a big deal.

TA: There’s a fascinating confluence of both East and West in many of these stories—a meeting point between civilizations and worldviews that seem to be very much at odds. How did you attempt to treat the “clash” of cultures in this collection?

APB: Because I’m half Turkish and half American, I don’t consider it a clash, I consider it a blend or an intersection. I don’t have two cultures at odds inside of me; I’m my own third blended thing, so I tried to write stories like that. Each of the story ideas came to me when some moment of Turkishness popped up in my very American life (like when I read a newspaper article about a Turkish girls’ school that had exploded). But as I wrote more and more stories, I started to see way more similarities between East and West than I did differences.

TA: Another major theme that seems to stem from the East-West dichotomy is the idea of displacement—from the Turkish wrestler interrogated by a border official in “A Cautionary Tale,” to the Armenian genocide survivor whose story of misery is paraded around Key West in “The Dead.” These stories seem to challenge the notion that emigrating West, specifically to the U.S., is an inherently fortunate thing, despite its often “desirable” status. (See: the parents in “Good Fortune” for whom the other stories might act as a sort of cautionary tale?)

APB: I think anyone who is the child of an immigrant knows that emigrating West involves a lot of sacrifice and loss. My father was extremely assimilated, and he spoke brilliant English even before he came to the US, but he was still apart from his extended family, he was still held back from pursuing the career he had held in Turkey. And he had a good experience compared to a lot of people. Generalizations are always risky, though. Lots of people immigrate due to circumstances that are far more difficult than my father’s were. And refugees are in a totally different situation, of course. But I don’t think anyone who leaves home considers it to be without loss. Even someone like me, who left Turkey when I was four, I know that I lost something—I don’t know what exactly, but something.

TA: Each story embodies a particular, brilliantly-wrought world—but there are certainly some common threads. For one, there’s a grandness of narrative in which the stories take on a quasi-mythical quality. Can you elaborate on the significance of mythology in this collection, in terms of both plot and form?

APB: At some point I decided to see just how much a short story could fit. And I suspect that desire to write bigger, to make stories that were quite large in scale and scope, led to my embrace of mythology. Myth is a natural way to tell an epic tale in a small space. And the voice of myth—that omniscience—was useful to me. I also recently found a school project that I did around second grade that was a retelling of Greek mythology, so perhaps it’s just something I was always drawn to. Not to mention a lot of the Turkish literature that was first available to me consisted of Turkish fairy tales—those tales have long been an influence.

TA: The stories feel thoroughly researched—from the incorporation of Greek and Turkish mythology and lore, to the artwork of French painter Ingres, and even the history of the sponge diving industry. Can you tell us about the extent of your research, and what you were most surprised to discover in the process?

APB: As someone who doesn’t feel very Turkish (my mother is American and I don’t speak Turkish), Turkey, or my own Turkish identity, has long been my research project. So, to some extent, the research process has been lifelong and cumulative. But the big surprise was that I love doing research. I have some regrets now that I wasn’t a history major. For nearly every story I read dozens of books—Appalachian literature to help me write a story set in Western Virginia, books on carpet motifs, books on modern art, books by genocide survivors, the list goes on and on, but I loved doing that. For a while I had almost 200 books out from my university library. I’ve got it down to about half a dozen now—but only after a librarian looked at my account with one eyebrow extremely arched. 

Talia Aharoni is a fiction writer living in NYC. She completed an MFA at the New School with a focus in fiction, and is the recipient of the Provost’s scholarship and the 2019-2020 Teachers & Writers Magazine Editorial Fellowship. She served as an editorial intern at One Story literary magazine, editorial assistant for LIT magazine, and editorial associate for Teachers & Writers Magazine. She’s at work on her debut novel.

Use Your Writing to Subvert, to Inform, to Speak Truth to Power: An Interview with Christina Hammonds Reed

Though our 2020 Literary Debutante Ball has been postponed, we’re still promoting the work of our incredible 2020 Debs. We hope you consider supporting Christina Hammonds Reed, and all the authors who are releasing books during this challenging time, by purchasing their books.

In Los Angeles in 1992, race relations are reaching a fever pitch. As riots roar through the city in response to the police beating of Rodney King, high school senior Ashley Bennet is facing her own reckoning. The school year is coming to an end, she feels as though she’s losing everyone she loves to other priorities, and a rumor she starts reaches a fever pitch of its own, at her wealthy, predominantly white, private high school. With significant parallels to our current times, Christina Hammonds Reed’s The Black Kids, out now, is about coming-of-age in a fire, both literal and figurative – little sparks of tragedy in a teenager’s life, as the world quite literally, burns around her.

Vanessa Chan: Where were you when you found out The Black Kids was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Christina Hammonds Reed: I was at my day job at the time, which incidentally was the day job I most enjoyed out of the many random jobs I’ve had over the years. My agent called me so I rushed out of the office to take a “coffee break”. When he shared the news with me, I could barely contain my excitement. I was jumping up and down in heels outside a very corporate building in Downtown Los Angeles. Then I calmly and rather anti-climactically went back to work. I didn’t really share it with people outside of my super close circle of friends. I was terrified it would all be taken away. Eventually, I had various celebratory dinners and drinks with my family and closest friends. But the day itself was especially meaningful to me because I received the news finalizing the deal on the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death, so there was so much joy to be had in a day that otherwise would’ve been painful.

VC: Which did you write first, the novel or your short story (published in One Teen Story, Issue #41)? And how long did the novel take you to write?

CHR: I wrote the short story first! I had the idea kicking around in my head as a graduate thesis film back in 2010, but ultimately decided against it. However, the story wouldn’t let me go, and just felt increasingly imperative with the rise of smartphones documenting police brutality and the effects of unequal policing on Black and Brown communities over the last decade. When the short story was published, I was un-agented. My (eventual) agent reached out to me and we had a really great meeting where he asked if I had considered expanding it into a novel. My first impulse was actually to say I’d said what I had to say, and was ready to move on to the next story. But the more I thought about it, it really did feel like there was so much left to explore, specifically as it relates to class, race, mental health and what it’s like to come of age as a Black girl with some degree of relative privilege. The novel took about two and half years to write from outline to submission. I had a job that entire time and was grieving the death of both of my maternal grandparents, so it took me a little longer than I’d hoped. But it also helped me stay focused on something other than grief. The task of completing it felt like a way of honoring them.

VC: In the novel, there is a point where a well-meaning friend tells Ashley that she’s not, “Blackity Black.” A lot of the story references the different ways where Ashley is either “too Black” or “not Black enough.” Why is this part of her identity important to interrogate?

CHR: I think for those of us who grew up in non-Black areas and going to non-Black schools, this is very much part of the microaggressions we were regularly subjected to because the media portrayals of Blackness, up until very recently, have been so limited. Film, music, books, visual art, all of these, seep into our consciousness as a society and when those images are focused solely on Black struggle and degradation, non-Black people will look at a Black person who doesn’t fit that stereotype and say, “Well you’re not that. Therefore, you’re not Black.” Which is absolutely incorrect. The Black community isn’t and never has been a monolith and while we have this powerful shared and unique experience of being Black in America, Blackness doesn’t only look like one thing and never has.

VC: It seems as though this novel is both an homage to and an indictment of the city of Los Angeles. What do you love and mourn for in LA?

CHR: I love the socioeconomic, cultural and religious diversity of this place. I love the geographic diversity of this city. I love that LA in its current iteration was actually founded by Black and Brown folks, as well as originally being the land of the Tongva people. And what I mourn is that these same people who helped make this city as beautiful and culturally rich as it is are being pushed out because of the economic realities of being unable to compete with wealthy transplants, rising housing costs, and a more stratified economy. Even homes in what was traditionally considered the hood up until fairly recently are now going for over a million dollars. Gentrification and revitalization projects are good for some but often they come at the expense of Black and Brown people who get pushed out of places they’ve called home for generations. And really that gentrification has been enabled by years of neglect, of political and economic disenfranchisement in the years leading up to and following the riots, from which many of these Black and Brown communities never fully recovered.

VC: You were eight years old when the LA riots broke out; your character Ashley is a senior in high school. What did it take to imagine her world at the time? What were your resources—your own memory, or conversations with family/friends, or historical research, or anything else? Did you draw from parallels in the present?

CHR: I was young at the time, but old enough to remember the fires, the anger and hurt of people who looked like me on the screen. I remember wondering why they were in pain and how it related to my personal experience of blackness. Similarly, Ashley is questioning herself and her community albeit in a much more mature way. That said, I still had to do a lot of research to make sure I was getting things right, even down to flipping through old issues of Seventeen and Vogue, etc. to see what Ashley and her friends would be wearing. Of particular help was Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and a compendium of articles by the LA Times called Understanding the Riots, among others. I also spent hours on YouTube watching news reports, listening to music, and watching music videos of the era and the stories told therein. I wanted to fully immerse myself in 1992 and what it looked and sounded like. Also, one of the benefits of writing about somewhere where I currently live, is that everyone I spoke to about writing the book would offer memories of what their experiences of the riots had been. It was like we had shared this moment as a community and there was absolutely a desire to reminisce and reflect on it.

Honestly, I didn’t have to try too hard to draw parallels to the present. They’re inherent in this moment, unfortunately. Things have changed a bit, but also as we’ve seen with the recent George Floyd protests and the national and international outcry over the deaths of Black and Brown people at the hands of police, almost thirty years later we’re still grappling with how structural and systemic racism lead to a police force that doesn’t actually protect and serve all of us.

VC: You have a career and background in film and TV production. Did that aid you in writing this book?

CHR: Traditionally, screenwriting is very structured. There are very specific moments at which the inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouements should theoretically take place in a conventional three-act structure. I relied on that in the outlining of the novel and making sure that I was moving plot along even within the more meandering context of Ashley’s interior shift. That said, I frequently blew up what I thought the plot was going to be along the way, most especially in the third “act” of the book. Mostly, I think it helped me not feel overwhelmed by what at the time felt like a very Herculean task. Especially given that it was my very first attempt at writing a book.

VC: What is the one thing you want your readers to take away when they read The Black Kids? What kind of advice would you give young Black writers?

CHR: I purposefully wrote Ashley as an incredibly flawed character because I thought it was important to illustrate that it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you end up. She makes huge mistakes over the course of the book. She hurts people and herself. She isn’t as informed as she should be. But she grows to be kinder, more empathetic; she takes ownership of her mistakes, and speaks up and out. She starts to love herself and really see herself as part of a larger community. I hope to convey to younger readers that it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. Messing up is part of life and what’s important is personal growth. And I hope that it builds empathy, awareness and an even stronger desire to advocate for Black lives in non-Black readers who may not have inhabited a world like Ashley’s before.

To young Black writers, I would say, Your stories are important and worthy of being shared and you don’t need to seek validation from the “right” schools or the “right” programs before you can consider yourself a “real writer.” Also, be kind to yourself right now. This is a moment that can be especially stressful for one’s mental health given that not only are we in a pandemic, we’re also in a moment of huge racial reckoning in which the oppression of Black, Brown, and trans bodies is at the forefront of the national conversation. It’s OK to feel drained or depressed and less focused on writing as you normally would. Take care of yourself and eventually, when you feel stronger, use your writing to subvert, to inform, to speak truth to power, and to showcase our joy and our love.

Vanessa Chan is a Malaysian writer who writes about race, colonization, and women who don’t toe the line. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Conjunctions, The Rumpus, Porter House Review, and more. Vanessa is a Fiction editor at TriQuarterly Magazine, an Assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel, a reader for One Story, and an MFA candidate at The New School. Her writing has received support from Tin House, Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, Aspen Words, and Disquiet International. She is at work on a novel.

Black Lives Matter

One Story stands in solidarity with the protests that have been happening across the country and throughout the world. We are outraged and saddened by the violence and oppression that has systematically devastated the lives of Black individuals and the Black community as a whole. We have also been closely following the conversations that have been taking place about race and inequity in the publishing industry, and we have been engaging in deep dialogues with our own staff, volunteers, authors, and board. 

In order for structural change to happen, it must happen at all levels, from the Big 5 publishers to small nonprofits like ours. With this in mind, and in order to keep ourselves accountable, we would like to share the steps that One Story is currently taking to increase the inclusivity of our organization as a whole. We are committed to the following:

  • Expanding our editorial staff, volunteer readers, and instructors to make One Story more representative and inclusive. 
  • Consciously seeking out and consistently publishing more work of BIPOC writers in our pages.
  • Launching a paid, extended editorial apprentice program, giving BIPOC students and recent graduates an opportunity to learn about all aspects of a small literary publisher and forge connections with peers and potential future employers in the industry.

We will have more news about each of these initiatives very soon. In the meantime, CLMP, an organization of which we are a proud member, has put together this comprehensive list of literary organizations whose founding missions are to support and champion the writing of people of color. We urge you to have a look, share it widely, and if you can, support these independent publishers and the important work they do.

Sincerely,

Maribeth Batcha & Hannah Tinti
One Story Co-Founders

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

The One Story Literary Debutante Ball: 10 years & counting!

April 30th should have been our 10th One Story Literary Debutante Ball.

Due to the current pandemic, we’ve postponed to a later date (which we hope to set once the world rights itself). But today we’re missing this joyous gathering of writers and readers. We should be clinking glasses and sharing books and laughing and dancing. We should be watching debut authors proudly walk down the aisle arm in arm with their mentors, and listening to inspirational speeches from honorees like Colum McCann, Alexander Chee, Jim Shepard, Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Dani Shapiro, Lan Samantha Chang, Ann Patchett, Dan Chaon, and Celeste Ng.

One Story is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, and the Debutante Ball is our annual fundraiser. This loss of income comes at a challenging time, and is a big blow to our organization. If you’re in a position to donate (at any level), we’d truly and gratefully welcome the support. You can do so by going here. A big thank you to those who sponsored this year’s (postponed) ball before the world changed and our plans fell apart: Manhattanville College MFA, The John S. Hilson Family Fund, Penguin Random House, Catapult, Janklow & Nesbit, Aragi, Inc., The Book Group, Jane and Bert Emke, The Raich Family, Kevin Reymond, Dani Shapiro and Michael Maren.

To keep the flame of literary joy alive, we’ve put together a slideshow of past Debutante Balls and posted it below. We hope you’ll pour yourself a cocktail and enjoy. Underneath the slideshow, we’ve compiled a list of ALL of our past & present debutantes. It’s wonderful to see the names of so many talented authors who have graced the pages of One Story. Eventually, our community will make it to the other side of this. And when we do, we plan on gathering you all up and dancing our hearts out.

Photo Credits: Aslan Chalom & koitz

One Story Literary Debutantes are past One Story authors who have recently published their first books. We celebrate them each year at our annual fundraiser, the One Story Literary Debutante Ball, where they are escorted by a mentor and formally “announced” to the literary world.

2020

  • Chuck Augello, The Inexplicable Gray Space We Call Love
  • Ayşe Papatya Bucak, The Trojan War Museum
  • Christina Hammonds Reed, The Black Kids

2019

  • Brad Felver, The Dogs of Detroit
  • Lydia Fitzpatrick, Lights All Night Long
  • Joseph Moldover, Every Moment After
  • Erin Somers, Stay Up with Hugo Best
  • Bryan Washington, Lot
  • Jake Wolff, The History of Living Forever

2018

  • Kendra Fortmeyer, Hole in the Middle
  • Chelsey Johnson, Stray City
  • Cheston Knapp, Up Up, Down Down

***One Story 2018 “Little Debbies”

  • Sanjay Agnihotri, One Story Issue #236: “Guerrilla Marketing”
  • Maud Streep, One Story Issue #234: “The Crazies”
  • Lucas Schaefer, One Story Issue #225: “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes”

2017

  • Sam Allingham, The Great American Songbook
  • Angelica Baker, Our Little Racket
  • Clare Beams, We Show What We Have Learned
  • Julie Buntin, Marlena
  • Anne Corbitt, Rules for Lying
  • Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, The Sleeping World
  • Lisa Ko, The Leavers
  • Emily Ruskovich, Idaho
  • Melissa Yancy, Dog Years

2016

  • Brian Booker, Are You Here for What I’m Here For?
  • Kim Brooks, The Houseguest
  • Matthew Cheney, Blood: Stories
  • Charles Haverty, Excommunicados
  • Naomi Williams, Landfalls
  • Cote Smith, Hurt People

2015

  • Mia Alvar, In the Country
  • Matthew Baker, If You Find This
  • Austin Bunn, The Brink
  • Scott Cheshire, High as the Horses’ Bridles
  • Diane Cook, Man V. Nature
  • Katie Coyle, Vivian Apple at the End of the World
  • Andrew Roe, The Miracle Girl
  • Matt Sumell, Making Nice
  • Ted Thompson, The Land of Steady Habits
  • Anne Valente, By Light We Knew Our Names

2014

  • Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans
  • Rachel Cantor, A Highly Unlikely Scenario
  • Amelia Kahaney, The Brokenhearted
  • Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
  • David James Poissant, The Heaven of Animals
  • James Scott, The Kept
  • Ben Stroud, Byzantium

2013

  • L. Annette Binder, Rise
  • Manuel Gonzales, The Minature Wife
  • Ben Miller, River Bend Chronicle
  • Leigh Newman, Still Points North
  • Ethan Rutherford, The Peripatetic Coffin
  • Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn
  • Douglas Watson, The Era of Not Quite

**One Story 2013 Staff Debs:

  • Marie-Helene Bertino, Safe as Houses
  • Elliott Holt, You Are One of Them
  • Julie Innis, Three Squares a Day With Occasional Torture

2012

  • Ramona Ausubel, No one is Here Except All of Us
  • Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise
  • Caitlin Horrocks, This is Not Your City
  • Katherine Karlin, Send Me Work
  • Miroslav Penkov, East of the West
  • Anna Solomon, The Little Bride
  • Arlaina Tibensky, And Then Things Fall Apart

2011

  • Robin Black, If I Loved You I Would Tell You This
  • Susanna Daniel, Stiltsville
  • Seth Fried, The Great Frustration
  • Jerry Gabriel, Drowned Boy
  • Jim Hanas, Why They Cried.

2010

*This Debutante Ball (our first) featured authors who published their first short stories in One Story, escorted by a writing mentor:

  • Sam Allingham, escorted by Dan Chaon
  • Ramona Ausubel, escorted by Michelle Latiolais
  • Nell Casey, escorted by Tamara Jenkins
  • Amelia Kahaney, escorted by Michael Cunningham
  • Cheston Knapp, escorted by Jim & Karen Shepard
  • Grant Monroe, escorted by Jonathan Lethem
  • Cote Smith, escorted by Deb Olin Unferth
  • Patrick Somerville, escorted by Hannah Tinti
  • Arlaina Tibensky, escorted by Victor LaValle

Occasionally I Fall in Love with Words: An Interview with Chuck Augello

Our Literary Debutante Ball is postponed until the fall, which is when we’ll be running the rest of the interviews with the debut authors being celebrated. But given that our Debutante Chuck Augello has two books coming out in April, in the midst of a pandemic, no less, we wanted to spotlight him now. We hope you’ll consider supporting Chuck—and writers like him who have Spring 2020 release dates—by purchasing their books. – One Story

In The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love, out now from Duck Lake Books, Chuck Augello pulls us closer to the realities of everyday life by exploring magical worlds outside of our own. While whimsical and lighthearted in tone, these stories force us to reckon with our own humanity: from heartbreak to healing, from misfortune to kismet, from chaos to purpose. In Augello’s peculiar characters, we see ourselves, and these recognitions make us laugh, cry, and gape at our surprising proximity to the fantastical.

Twinkle Bharwaney: Where were you when you found out The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Chuck Augello: I was at work, so it wasn’t an environment where I could jump up and shout, “Yes!”  I think I went to the vending machine and celebrated with a pack of Peanut M&M’s.  I’m not big on celebration, particularly when it concerns myself, but there was definitely a sense of achievement, and to a lesser extent, relief. Rejection is common, and it’s easy to lose faith in oneself, so when Edward Parris of Duck Lake Books contacted me with an offer to publish my story collection, it was an important validation. Oddly, while The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love is my first published book, it holds that distinction by only fifteen days, and it’s the second book of mine to be accepted. Grey Space is being published on April 1, and my novel The Revolving Heart is being published on April 16 by Black Rose Writing; I received the contract offer for The Revolving Heart about a month before Grey Space was accepted. So in a short window of time there was cause for double celebration. Of course whatever celebration I might have planned for the publication dates will be tampered by the Covid-19 crisis, but I will definitely mark each date. Maybe I’ll break open another pack of Peanut M&M’s.

TB: The stories in this collection seem to deal with the arbitrary nature of timing. Whether it’s the urgency for twenty boxes of pizza or a soon-to-be-couple meeting as a man chokes on blueberry pie, your characters’ lives hinge on strange moments that change everything. Can you speak more about how you use the concepts of fate and destiny in your fiction? How do they inform both the inner and external worlds of your characters? 

CA: Interesting question. The other day my wife and I had a conversation in which I said I don’t believe in destiny, but perhaps I believe in it more than I think since it slips into my work with some frequency. Much of life is routine but every now and then we experience what I’ll call opportunities for movement, events with the potential to alter the trajectory of our lives. Usually we don’t realize it at the time, and these moments slip away. I can think of several in my own life that I let pass.  So in my stories I often place characters in situations with distinct choices, and in choosing an action, they create their destiny. In hindsight we might think it was fate, but there are multiple destinies available. You referred to the story “Pizza Monks,” in which Flynn feels his fate is certain, and it’s not a happy one.  When the monks come into his shop and order twenty pizzas, he could simply make the pies and be done with it. But it’s an opportunity for movement, and his decision to engage with the monks and deliver the pizzas himself leads to an exploration of Buddhism and the possibility of accepting his father’s suicide. From an interior perspective, it may feel like destiny, but the larger workings of the world are indifferent to us, although characters, and people, often think otherwise. I try to include that tension in my fiction.       

TB: Cool City” began with the story’s first line popping into your head one morning. You have some extraordinary first lines in this collection. Some I loved in particular were from “Thursday Night at the Tick Tock Diner, “Languid” and “Extraction.” Did these stories begin as compelling first lines too? How did these stories begin for you?

CA: Thanks for the compliment. A while back I was searching online and came across a list of one hundred great opening lines in fiction. To my utter surprise, I found one of my stories included on the list: the opening line of “Cool City,” published by One Story, which begins, “I was in the kitchen watching The Weather Channel when the girl from two floors down knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to fall in love.” I’m not sure I belong on any list that includes Tolstoy and Flannery O’Connor, but I’ll take it. Regarding your question, yes, they all began with what I hoped was a compelling first line. I struggle with endings, but my head contains a decent supply of first lines, most of which never develop into a story, or at least haven’t yet. As with “Cool City,” the opening line will arrive unannounced, and if it sticks around, I’ll start writing, hoping that a story takes shape. When it does, it’s a great feeling until I reach the end, which is when things get sticky.

“Extraction” began as an exercise in a workshop taught by Anthony Varallo at the Iowa Summer Writers Festival. The opening line came from an old-fashioned writing exercise with a prompt. “Languid” opens with the line “Three days after his roommate Calvin’s funeral, William K. fell in love with the word languid.” Occasionally I fall in love with words; over the years I’ve had relationships with brouhaha, unitard, cumbersome, and a few others, including languid, although I’ve never gone as far with it as William K. It was just a goofy idea about myself that I transformed into a story.    

There are many wonderful stories with unmemorable opening lines, but I respect the competition for a reader’s attention, and hope to hook them from the beginning. Kurt Vonnegut has written, to paraphrase, that writers should use the time of a total stranger in a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. With a strong opening line, I hope that a potential reader will trust that my story will be a good use of the next fifteen minutes of his or her life. Hopefully the rest of the story lives up to the beginning.

TB: How does magical realism, as a genre, afford you the breadth to explore heavier topics such as love, loss, and neuroses?

CA: I’ve never really considered these stories magical realism, though I see how the term is absolutely applicable to many of them. It’s a way of being playful and imaginative and opening doors that hopefully take the story in unique and interesting directions. My goal in writing is always to entertain; introducing magical elements provides a release valve when writing about heavier topics. It’s also wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if strange, magical occurrences happened in real life? Like that Borges story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Who wouldn’t want to find that old man in his or her back yard? I know I would. I spend a lot of time outdoors walking my dog and I’m always hoping we’ll stumble upon something unexpected and unexplainable, but we never do. We just find discarded plastic, crushed soda cans, and the occasional dead frog. I wish it were otherwise, and some of that desire informs my approach to fiction.

TB: What is a piece of advice you would give young, aspiring writers? 

CA: It’s hard to put myself in the role of an advice-giver, especially about writing fiction, but I’ll offer a few thoughts that may be useful: first, whenever you think you’re done with a story, you’re probably only half-way there; approach your work like a sculptor chipping away at a giant block of clay until you can’t imagine the story existing in any other form. You may never write the story as perfectly as you’d like it to be, but don’t settle for anything other than your absolute best. That’s pretty standard advice; every writer mentions the importance of revision. Secondly, make sure that writing is something that you absolutely want to do because the external rewards will most likely be sporadic and not commensurate with the effort. You should really enjoy sitting down and working on a piece of writing as the reward in itself. If you knew no one would ever read what you wrote, would you still write? For me, the answer is yes, and so when good things happen, like One Story accepting “Cool City,” it’s wonderful, but it was equally wonderful sitting at my desk working through the story line by line. Finally, read a lot. It will make you a more thoughtful writer, and a better person, and it’s fun. 

Twinkle Bharwaney is a writer and student living in New York City. She is currently an MA candidate at NYU Steinhardt, pursuing a degree in Media, Culture, and Communication. She earned her BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch in 2017.

Announcing the 2020
Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow:
Arvin Ramgoolam

photo credit: Nathan Bilow

Together with the Talve-Goodman family, One Story is pleased to announce our 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow: Arvin Ramgoolam.

For 16 years, Arvin Ramgoolam has lived in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in the small town of Crested Butte, Colorado and owns Townie Books with his wife, Danica. An immigrant, he was born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in Miami Beach, Florida. His writing explores themes of otherness, the outdoors, immigrants, and pop culture, subjects that are innately central to his very existence.

He is currently working on a collection of short stories revolving around these issues. He is also at work on a novel about people from different backgrounds moving across land and time towards the western US, culminating during election night 2016.  He is the father of twin four year old girls, Anya and Sahira, and the owner of Wylie the Wonder Dog, the best mountain dog ever.

The finalists for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship were:

  • Jackson Ingram
  • Wynter Miller
  • Lolita Miranda
  • Olakunle Ologunro

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. The previous winner of the Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship was Nay Saysourinho.

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 2021 Fellowship will open in September 2020.

Photo Credit: Nathan Bilow