Great News for Fans of Oprah & Short Fiction

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Today Oprah Winfrey announced the newest selection for her book club and we at One Story breathed a happy sigh. Though the book club has been going on for several years now and made many a writer a household name, this is the first time a collection of short stories was chosen, and the lucky author is Uwem Akpan, for his acclaimed book Say You’re One of Them, already the winner of a Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and a PEN/Beyond Margins Award. Coming at a time when the big houses balk at publishing collections–especially by new voices–this is an exciting announcement and we only hope that the welcome exposure Akpan and his book get from Oprah will make for a few more fans of short fiction.

Oprah’s site has plenty of great info and some brief selections for those curious about the book but readers with access to the New Yorker archive can also find the full text of his first published story in that magazine here.

Alice Munro wins Man Booker International Prize!

alicemunroMore great news for the short story–Alice Munro has been awarded the 2009 Man Booker International Prize. Here’s what judges Jane Smiley, Amit Chaudhuri and Andrey Kurkov had to say:

“Alice Munro is mostly known as a short story writer and yet she brings as much depth, wisdom and precision to every story as most novelists bring to a lifetime of novels. To read Alice Munro is to learn something every time that you never thought of before.”

The Story Prize

The Three Finalists: Joe Meno, Tobias Wolff & Jhumpa Lahiri

The Story Prize ceremony was held last night at The New School. Fans of the short story were treated to readings by and interviews with the three finalists: Jhumpa Lahiri (for Unaccustomed Earth), Joe Meno (for Demons in the Spring), and Tobias Wolff (for Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories). Jhumpa Lahiri read from the exquisite “Heaven-Hell,” Joe Meno from the whimsical “Frances the Ghost,” and the legendary Tobias Wolff from his famous story “Bullet in the Brain”. 

In the interviews with Story Prize Director Larry Dark on stage last night, Lahiri mentioned her love for the stories of the incomparable Mavis Gallant and noted that she set out to try shifts in point-of-view within single stories in this collection because she loves the way Gallant does that in her work. Joe Meno made an impassioned case for “books being books”. His beautifully designed collection, which includes illustrations from various artists in Chicago, is what he called an “anti-Kindle” book. Reading it is such a tactile experience that it reminds you that books are artifacts (not just texts that can be read on screen). And Wolff compared perfect short stories to snowflakes. It was an apt simile: the best stories do crystallize in their own unique form.

After the readings and interviews, Julie Lindsey (founder of the Story Prize) announced the winner. A gracious Tobias Wolff took home the prize ($20,000 and an engraved silver bowl) and the other two finalists pocketed $5000 each. (It’s always good to see story writers rewarded for their hard, underappreciated work.) Our own Hannah Tinti was one of the three judges this year. Judging this contest was no easy task, of course, but you, dear readers, are the real winners because you get to enjoy the collections. Buy all three. And while you’re at it, buy the ones on the short list too. They are all filled with snowflakes.

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One Story Editor Hannah Tinti with Tobias Wolff

One Story Managing Editor Tanya Rey, Publisher Maribeth Batcha, and Reading Series Coordinator Elliott Holt

One Story Managing Editor Tanya Rey, Publisher Maribeth Batcha, and Reading Series Coordinator Elliott Holt

Charles D’Ambrosio wins Lannan Foundation Fellowship

At One Story, we’re always happy to see short story writers win big prizes and fellowships. So we’re delighted to report that Charles D’Ambrosio, author of two phenomenal story collections, The Point (1995) and The Dead Fish Museum (2006), as well as a beautiful book of essays called Orphans, is one of the recipients of a Fellowship from Lannan Foundation. We know that D’Ambrosio is working on a novel, but we can’t wait to read whatever he publishes next.

5 Under 35

The National Book Foundation’s annual “5 Under 35” celebrates five books of fiction by five writers under the age of thirty-five. As most people know, thirty-five is the minimum age for a President of the United States. To the Founding Fathers, with their limited life expectancy, thirty-five years seemed sufficient time to accrue the experience necessary to be Chief Executive of this fledging nation. In our contemporary society, where forty is the new twenty, thirty-five still seems awfully young. It’s hard to imagine electing a thirty-five-year-old President. (People were worried about Obama’s experience and he is 47. He is also a terrific writer who wrote Dreams from My Father when he was under 35. But I digress.) Still, the 5 Under 35 celebration is a reminder that one should never underestimate youth. Mary Gaitskill said the title story in One Story author Nam Le’s astonishingly good collection, The Boat, would be extraordinary if it had been written by a fifty-year-old author, and that the fact that Nam was just twenty-six when he wrote it makes it all the more remarkable. There is no doubt that writing is hard, and that with experience and practice, most writers’ work does get better. But some writers do their best work long before 35. The work of the five writers feted at Tribeca Cinemas last night already displays such wisdom and maturity that one can’t help but feel that 35 is an arbitrary age to define the cut-off between young and, well, less young. How relevant is age when it comes to confidence and authority on the page? It’s exciting to imagine what this year’s 5 Under 35 will write in the next thirty-five years or so. In the meantime, buy the books they have already written. Each of the five young writers is always selected by a previous National Book Award Fiction Finalist or Winner. Here are the 5 Under 35 for 2008, who were introduced by the writers who selected them: Matthew Eck, The Farther Shore. (Selected by Joshua Ferris, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Then We Came to the End.) Keith Gessen, All the Sad Young Literary Men. (Selected by Jonathan Franzen, 2001 National Book Award Winner for The Corrections.) Sana Krasikov, One More Year. (Selected by Francine Prose, 2000 National Book Award Finalist for Blue Angel.) Nam Le, The Boat. (Selected by Mary Gaitskill, 2005 National Book Award Finalist for Veronica.) Fiona Maazel,  Last Last Chance. (Selected by Jim Shepard, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Like You’d Understand, Anyway.)

Kelly Link talks about Pretty Monsters


We at One Story can barely keep up with the success of our authors.  This month we were lucky enough to interview Kelly Link, whose short story “The Great Divorce” was One Story issue # 59.  Kelly’s new collection Pretty Monsters was published by Viking Children’s Books in October.  Pretty Monsters has received outstanding reviews, and was included on Amazon’s 2008 list of Top Ten Books for Teens.

Kelly Link is the award-winning author of Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners (selected by Time Magazine as one of the Best Books of 2005).  The recipient of a 2006 NEA grant, Link lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Gavin J. Grant run Small Beer Press who, among other great offerings, publish Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, a consistently brilliant literary magazine.

Here Kelly talks about loving dead people, exhuming ex girlfriends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other subjects of Pretty Monsters.

The stories in Pretty Monsters seem to have a shared, funny narrator, giving the sense they are being related to us by a friend.  Was your intention to have a continuous narrative feel?

Point of view is a way of manipulating distance.  You can get inside the heads of your characters, and then draw back and comment on those characters’ prejudices or peculiarities through the filter of that intermediary, your narrator.  It allows for lateral movement.  And of course you (and now I mean you the reader as well as you the writer) may begin to suspect that the narrator has their own agenda or story.  There’s more of a sense of play, of elasticity when the characters want one thing and the narrator may want something else.

It can also be a way of tethering a story that heads off into fantastic or supernatural territory.

Until you asked, I hadn’t actually thought about how many narrators were lurking and loitering in these stories.  They’re smart alecks, aren’t they?  It’s a relief to hear they’re likable, which is not to say always trustworthy, I hope.

The kids in the story “Magic for Beginners” are obsessed with a “reality show” called The Library, whose reality bleeds into the real lives of the characters, who may or may not be characters on the show itself.  Was The Library based on a real TV show?

The story “Magic for Beginners” was based on the experience of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I moved from Somerville, MA to Brooklyn to Northampton, MA during the seven years Buffy was on, and the one thing all of the places I lived had in common, besides too many books, was a room with a television where we got together with various friends to watch new episodes and then dissect, praise, complain, rewrite and rewatch.  It was an enormously social experience, and it’s not one I’ve had since Buffy ended.  I wanted to write something that would capture the way it feels to be a fan and a member of a fandom.

On the other hand, the television show itself, The Library, was my attempt to write all the things that would be–if not impossible, then at least costly and impractical–to do in an actual television show.  Like having different actors take over key roles in each episode, and putting in elaborate settings and all manner of special effects.

Speaking as a slush reader, there’s nothing worse than a piece of fiction that reads like a transcript of an episode of a television show, and so, in self-defense I started to wonder what could be done in fiction with a television show that you couldn’t actually do using a camera, a script and a bunch of actors.

People loving dead people pops up here and there in the stories.  Jeremy loves Fox (who may or may not be dead on a show that may or may not be “reality”), Miles loves Bethany (a teenaged-sweetheart whose grave he digs up to recover his poems).  Was it a happy accident to have so much death and loss in the collection, or was it an intentional theme?

Well, that collision between love and death is inevitable, isn’t it?  There are a fair number of ghosts in this collection because I love ghost stories.  There are some bloodthirsty monsters because when I was a kid, I loved reading monster stories.  Pretty Monsters is actually a young adult collection, and so these stories needed to have a certain dramatic urgency.  The possibility of death raises the stakes.  So does the threat of humiliation.

“The Faery Handbag” is a story about a magic pocketbook that contains several changing worlds.  Where did you come up with the idea for this story?

I’ve always loved stories where the insides of something were bigger than the outside.  I was drawing on folklore about fairy hills and people going in for one night and coming out hundreds of years later.  I was also inspired by a friend who proposed marriage to his girlfriend on a Scrabble board.  I started to think about other uses that Scrabble boards and tiles might have, such as divination.

What influenced your decision to make so many of the main characters young?

I like writing from the point of view of children, or young adults.  They’re in this weird transitional space, between worlds.  Their actions have real consequences, but that doesn’t mean that they’re taken seriously.  They’re specialists in music, or dinosaurs or clothing labels.  They want things with a kind of great and terrible intensity that makes them great characters to write about.  They say things that adults wouldn’t let themselves say.  When I write about adults, I’m most interested in writing about adults who have retained some of these qualities.

Why do you write, for lack of a better word, fantastically?  Do you hope to get at human emotion through alternative means?  Is it just more fun?

I don’t know that I have a particularly good reason at the moment.  It’s not just that writing fantasy, or ghost stories, is more fun, because I’m not sure I’m willing to go on the record saying writing is fun.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.  But certainly I’m more interested in the fantastic and the weird, in the experimental and pulp traditions.  It just feels like more expansive territory.  You can still use all the tools of realistic fiction.  You’ve just got this other, complimentary set of tools as well.

I love Angela Carter’s fiction, Joe Hill’s short stories.  The world that matters most to me is the kind of fiction that I imprinted on, and never stopped reading.  That’s science fiction, fantasy, ghost stories, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett.  I’m an unapologetic fan of space opera, heroic fantasy, hobbits, novels about dragons like Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books.  I still read young adult fantasy by writers like Ysabeau Wilce and Elizabeth Knox, M.T. Anderson and Diana Wynne Jones.  So maybe these are all the reasons why I write what I write, because I want to create work that will exist, at least partially, in that same space.

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.

Notes From the Trenches: There Where These Two Guys In a Lunatic Assylum…

So by now we all know how awesome the Dark Knight is, right?  WELL I have just the ticket for you! The Killing Joke was published in 1988, and, unlike Frank Miller’s other work, like the Dark Knight Returns, which is a novel, and Batman: Year One, which is a novella, it is a legitimate graphic short story, only 46 pages in length.

It begins with a meeting between Batman and The Joker in the Arkham Assylum for the Criminally Insane, in which Batman tells his foe, “I’ve been thinking lately. About you and me. About what’s going to happen to us, in the the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we?” Then all hell breaks loose. The story is haunting and complex and it was supposedly given to Mr. Ledger as study material for his role. The edition I linked earlier, from Amazon is the new edition, which has been re-colored (re-inked?) by the artist, Brian Bolland, and it also includes another short graphic story by Bolland, An Innocent Guy, but the Miller’s haunting contribution to this never ending battle is the real attraction. Check it out if you feel so inclined.