One Story Summer Conference Day 3: Keep Writing

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Miche Hu. Enjoy! –LV

The third day of One Story’s Summer Writers Conference began with another round of morning workshops led by Patrick Ryan and Will Allison. The afternoon craft lecture, which focused on the process of submitting work and getting out of the slush pile, was led by Hannah Tinti, One Story cofounder and author of the new novel The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.

Tinti discussed what to do and not to do and what to believe and not believe when putting work out into the world. She outlined some important, often overlooked details of submission formatting while also highlighting the importance of heart and honesty when writing stories. Examples from her own experiences reading slush for The Boston Review and The Atlantic Monthly, as well as transcripts of rejection letters she had received for her own work helped writers to understand some of the challenges associated with submitting work. Particularly helpful were the different resources and anthologies to read and to use as resources for finding the places to submit.

Three trusted sources for Tinti are The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and The O’Henry Prize Stories.

Tinti’s discussion of rejection letters, and their various forms, resonated with workshop writers. She broke down the differences between form rejections and more personalized rejections, and stressed that any letter that expressed interest seeing more of a writer’s work was cause for celebration. “You’re a writer if you’re writing, not if you’re published,” Hannah reminded us, echoing earlier advice from craft lecturer Myla Goldberg and the previous night’s agent panel. After the lecture, all were invited to peruse the many different literary magazines on display at the back of the room and take any home, with the knowledge that the work inside was borne out of both rejection and tenacity.

After a short break for writing and dinner, workshop writers reconvened at Community Bookstore for a reading of Lisa Ko’s debut novel, The Leavers. A One Story Debutante, Lisa Ko published “Proper Girls” in One Teen Story in 2013 (when her newly published novel was still being written—and rewritten). The novel follows the double narrative of Deming Guo and his mother, Polly. Having just returned from a week-long meditation retreat, Lisa Ko read an excerpt from the novel about last time Deming sees his mother, just before her disappearance. Deming’s observations of his mother reveal his own character traits—he remembers his mother’s hands rubbed raw and wishes for a super lotion that can grow her new skin, how she says motherfucker and he walks in step to the syllables as he practices the word.

During the Q&A, Ko and Patrick Ryan discussed how she used point-of-view to discover her characters, and her little celebrations after winning the PEN/Bellwether Prize. Both writers shared the various ways they disposed of unused pieces of their stories. Ryan does not delete anything, though he rarely revisits. Ko admitted that she will often remember certain sentences or descriptions and “pluck it from the graveyard”—the graveyard being the file where she stores her unused writing. Lisa also talked about how she perseveres through the difficult, stagnant moments by setting daily goals for herself: fifty rejections a day. “I like to aim for rejection,” she said. As the crowd listened to her novel excerpt and the tales of her struggles with the publication process, they were reminded of what often seems hidden from writers: publication is the outcome of a lot of “no.” But, as Tinti had stressed in her lecture earlier in the day, it’s not publication that makes a writer a writer—it’s the act of writing. The lesson learned on Day 3 of the Conference was simple, but not necessarily easy: keep writing.

One Story Summer Conference Day 2: No Tricks

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Olivia Liu. Enjoy!–LV

Tuesday was a stellar second day of the One Story Summer Conference. The featured Craft Lecturer was One Story Contributing Editor Karen Friedman, who gave a useful talk on how to edit your own story. The lecture was structured around four main story aspects—beginnings, characters, plot, and endings—and the lessons we can learn from soap operas. You read that right: soap operas! Sure, soap operas are not exactly high-brow literature but they do have a way of pulling you in and never letting go, something that a story should certainly do.

To edit beginnings, Karen advised writers to take a page out of Yoda’s book (yes, that Yoda). Unclear writing can make a reader angry, and, according to the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, “Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” To avoid angering readers, writers should make clear what the setting, characters, and conflict in their work are by page 2.

As a template for character, Friedman used Jason, the golden-boy-turned-crime-boss-protégé from the soap opera General Hospital. As soon as we re-meet Jason after his amnesia, we immediately learn his appearance, actions, voice, motivation, backstory and, perhaps most intriguing of all, we learn the concept of reusing a character. General Hospital could have made the crime boss protégé a new character entirely, but Friedman pointed out that Jason would lose the layer of emotional depth the viewers gained from knowing this new villain was once a beloved son.

“Make your characters want something right away, even if it’s a glass of water.” Friedman used this bit of advice from Kurt Vonnegut to frame her segment on editing plot. She outlined the basic narrative arc of set up, escalation, climax, and resolution and emphasized that every scene should feature a narrative arc, no matter how small. One example of a scene arc she used was a clip from Guiding Light in which Reva Shayne baptizes herself as the “Slut of Springfield.”

Friedman discussed her two major “don’ts” for endings—NO TRICKS (don’t make the story “all a dream”) and Death ≠ Answer (a character’s death does not count as a story ending). Endings, she said, should resonate with readers. The reader should be thinking about the story long after it’s over. One technique to create resonant endings, Friedman said, was to slow down and focus on an object that has had some significance in the narrative. As an example, she used the ending of Jodi Angel’s “Snuff” (OS #179), which is structured around a pocketknife, and the final scene of As the World Turns, which prominently features the newly-retired Robert Hughes (Dr. Bob) slipping his nameplate into his briefcase as he leaves his office for the final time.

The lecture ended with a fun writing exercise. We each wrote two characters on two different yellow cards and one setting on a blue card. Everyone switched cards and had to craft a beginning of a story from those characters and that setting. This resulted in some fun and unexpected stories, which Friedman stressed was the point of the generative exercise: to get writers out of their comfort zone.

The group reconvened in the evening for a panel with some of the industry’s top agents: Mitch Hoffman, Dana Murphy, Duvall Osteen, and Renée Zuckerbrot, moderated by One Story Co-founder and Executive Editor Hannah Tinti. They opened the discussion by discussing an agent’s role in the life of a writer, a role that, according to Murphy, ranges from best friend to therapist. All four agents agreed that it is ultimately a business relationship, and stressed the importance of professionalism.

Because the relationship with their agent might be the most important relationship an author will forge in their career, the panelists advised conference attendees to choose carefully, with patience and deliberation. Finding agents and editors can be a lot like matchmaking, and jumping the gun on these relationships is akin to marrying the first person you meet on Tinder.

The four agents also shared projects that they were proud of. Murphy talked about her very first project, Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka, which will be published next week, and Osteen told a story about hope: her client who had a book she absolutely loved got rejected multiple times but finally got a deal after waiting and more revising.

When asked about the best way to approach an agent, they discussed the importance of doing your homework. Know who you’re talking to, they said, and be sure to follow the specific submission requirements the agents have.

After the panel, conference attendees enjoyed wine and cheese and a chance to talk to the agents one-on-one. Despite a long day of workshops, lectures, and panels, the writers were all buzzing with energy as they chatted with the agents and with one another. The crowd didn’t begin to thin until well after 9pm. “I’m tired but happy,” proclaimed one attendee, as she left for the evening with a grin on her face.

 

 

One Story Summer Conference Day 1: Write What You Know; Write What You Don’t Know

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Hannah Johnston. Enjoy!–LV

One Story’s eighth annual Summer Writers Conference is officially underway here in Brooklyn at the Old American Can Factory! Twenty-one talented writers from all over the country joined the One Story staff and interns on Sunday night to celebrate the start of the workshop for a cocktail reception in the OACF Canteen. The group made eager conversation over drinks and snacks, pausing for One Story cofounders Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha’s brief introduction to the workshop. The cofounders also introduced the Writing Advice Wall, where participants are can make note of great writing advice they hear from speakers and in workshops throughout the week, write it down on colorful slips of paper, and clip them onto the wall. Once the remarks concluded, Hannah and Maribeth led the group on a short tour of the Can Factory, and the group returned to the Canteen to mingle for the duration of the evening.

Over the course of the coming week, Patrick Ryan and Will Allison will each lead a group of attendees in intensive workshops, where each writer will have their piece discussed by their instructor and fellow writers. In addition to the workshops, there will also be readings,craft lectures, panels, and more from authors, publishing professionals, and the editorial staff of One Story.

The first official day of the conference began on Monday with a two-and-a-half-hour workshop period. Workshops often become sacred spaces, and throughout the week it won’t be surprising to see camaraderie built among writers from the same groups.

After lunch, workshop participants attended an illuminating craft lecture from Myla Goldberg, acclaimed author of the novel Bee Season. The lecture addressed the idea of “writing what you know,” for which she had workshop writers read the short story “What You Left in the Ditch” by Aimee Bender. The story is about a brief time in the life of Mary, a woman whose husband has come home from an unnamed war after losing his lips in battle.

Goldberg made a point of encouraging writers to write about things they’re afraid to write about; to write about the unfamiliar. To do this, she explained, a writer must figure out a way to relate some aspect of the unfamiliar situation to their own emotional experience. Goldberg used Bender’s story as an example, explaining that it was unlikely that Aimee Bender has ever had such a specific experience with war or trauma resulting from war, but she most likely understands what it’s like when two people are in a relationship and one of them changes while the other remains the same.

Goldberg went on to discuss the power of empathy in writing and how it is different from sympathy. In order to engender empathy, she explained, neither writer nor reader need to have have actually experienced what the characters are experiencing, but the writer needs to find a way to make that experience real and familiar. Goldberg, an excellent lecturer with engaging energy, gave workshop attendees many tidbits of useful writing advice. She talked about “telegraphing”: how authors reveal character traits to a reader using visual clues rather than explicitly spelling them out. For example, Bender’s description of Mary’s husband’s favorite chair as “neatly dusted” signals to the reader that Mary has been taking care of his things while he was away at war, and clearly cares about his wellbeing (despite acting as if she doesn’t). In analyzing Bender’s story, the group determined that Bender was able to create familiarity and universality through her lack of time- or place-specific details, and to create empathy by showing Mary’s external and internal selves through close-third-person POV.

After Myla’s energizing talk, writers made their way back to the Canteen to conclude the day with casual social time over sweets and drinks. After some relaxing chat, the group gathered together to listen to Maribeth facilitate a “getting to know the instructors” talk with Will and Patrick, who discussed their first published works and the experiences that eventually led them to become editors for One Story.

Patrick made an interesting point about balancing his work as a writer and an editor. Early in his career, he’d been worried that reading good writing would discourage him from creating his own work. The opposite proved true. “Reading really good writing doesn’t make me not want to write,” said Patrick, “it makes me want to write even more.” It often seems daunting to both write your own work and read the excellent writing of others, but Patrick and Will each said they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s beneficial to their writing to read others’ work. Will even noted that he’ll occasionally use a “kick starter book” to take a break from writing in order to reinvigorate his creative flow. As the day came to an end, a handful of useful tips hung from the Writing Advice Wall, and many workshop attendees headed out to enjoy a nice evening in Brooklyn. Stay tuned for the low-down on day two of the One Story Summer Writers Conference!

Announcing the Winners of our 2017 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2017 ONE TEEN STORY Teen Writing Contest! We received hundreds of entries from teen writers across the globe, and narrowing it down was no easy feat. Each of our three winners will receive $500 and publication in a forthcoming issue of One Teen Story. Here are the winners and runners-up in each age category:

Ages 13 – 15

Winner: “Toby” by Lily Boyd

“He wanted to run, and I let him, anything for him. He took off down the street and I followed, the leather of the leash pressing into my palm. The wind whipped at my cheeks, the snow swirling around me as my lungs battered for breath.” (excerpt from “Toby”)

Runner-up: “Pretty Close to Perfect” by Jordan Fong

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Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “Bulletin Board Dragon” by Lilly Hunt

“His full name is Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre—you know, after the dude who overthrew the French monarchy—but I call him Max. He’s the size of a small human, can’t breathe fire, and is horrifically ugly, but I’m okay with that. I share those traits.”  (excerpt from “Bulletin Board Dragon”)

Runner-up: “The Dinner” by Isabel Lickey

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Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “Our New Lives” by Helen Coats

“I pulled out my sketchbook and started drawing Jeremy. He was running toward or away from something, I hadn’t decided which.” (excerpt from “Our New Lives”)

Runner-Up: “The Observations of a Big-Eared Girl” by Rebekah Anne Craggs

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Congratulations to all our participants for writing and submitting such wonderful work. It was a pleasure to read each entry!

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

 

Issue #229: Goodnight Nobody by Sarah Hall

Dear Reader,

Meet Jem, an eleven-year-old girl who is leaning forward toward adulthood with all her might. She has, as the author describes it in our Q&A, “an elastic, skipping-ahead brain” that doesn’t necessarily want to focus on the little brother she’s often charged with watching, but would much rather be investigating the bloody incident that has taken place down the street—an incident that’s left one person dead and put another person in jail. (Her brain would also like to be watching Thundercats, but that’s not an option at present.)

Sarah Hall, the author of “Goodnight Nobody,” is one of the most careful writers I know. Her word choices, narrative pacing, and sentence rhythm are the result, I suspect, of a great deal of hard, obsessive work. And yet none of that calls attention to itself. The nuts, bolts, and machinery are all hidden away, and her work is a pleasurable breeze to read. One of the great achievements of this particular story is the fact that its voice is so intimately attached to Jem, it feels as if it’s written in the first-person. I find “Goodnight Nobody” to be an addictive read, and I hope you do too.

If, by chance, you haven’t encountered Sarah Hall’s work before (she now has two story collections and five novels under her belt), I’m all the happier to be introducing you to her. Her new story collection is called Madame Zero. She’s a treasure, and we’re honored to have her in the One Story family.

Issue #228: The Third Birdhouse by John Biguenet

One of the many things I admire about our new issue is the way it sweeps through time with the subtly of a light breeze. The narrative voice is subtle, as well — subdued, even, and remarkably commanding. Contributing Editor Will Allison brings us “The Third Birdhouse,” so the honor of introducing if is his. — PR

In one of the Old Testament’s more unsettling tales, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The devout Abraham takes Isaac to a mountaintop, builds an altar, and binds his son to it. Just as Abraham raises his knife, though, an angel intervenes. “Now I know you fear God,” the angel says, “because you have not withheld from me your only son.” Abraham ends up killing a ram instead, and as a reward for his obedience, God blesses Abraham’s family.

Things don’t work out quite so well for Abraham in “The Third Birdhouse,” John Biguenet’s contemporary retelling of Isaac’s life: it’s not okay in twentieth-century Brooklyn to try to murder your son with a hatchet, even if you think God told you to. But things do work out for the narrator, who—like the biblical Isaac—goes on to lead a long and prosperous life, with twin sons of his own.

The question is what kind of dad this modern Isaac will be, given the poor role model of Abraham. Isaac’s big test comes when his younger son, Jacob, swindles his twin brother out of his inheritance, just like in the Bible. How will Isaac respond? Raise the hatchet? Bury the hatchet? Hatch a compromise? His solution surprised me, and it’s one I’m still grappling with, which is partly why I love this story: like all good literature, it challenges the reader, posing questions rather than answering them.

John Biguenet, on the other hand, was more than happy to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his author interview to learn how birdhouses found their way into this retelling of Isaac’s story and to get John’s distinctive take on the reading habits of Donald Trump.

One Story Literary Debutante Ball 2017: The Pictures!

Angela Flournoy & Mentor of the Year Lan Samantha Chang

Thanks to everyone who came out and sponsored our Literary Debutante Ball in Brooklyn on May 12th. We heard inspiring speeches by Angela Flournoy and Mentor of the Year Lan Samantha Chang, ate delicious food, mingled with publishers, editors, readers and writers, toasted with beer from Brooklyn Brewery and cocktails from Tito’s Vodka, and danced the night away with the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn and DJ Reborn. Most important, we celebrated the first books of One Story’s 2017’s Literary Debutantes: Sam Allingham, The Great American Songbook (A Strange Object), Angelica Baker, Our Little Racket (Ecco), Clare Beams, We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout Books), Julie Buntin, Marlena (Henry Holt), Anne Corbitt, Rules for Lying (Southeast Missouri State University Press), Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, The Sleeping World (Touchstone), Lisa Ko, The Leavers (Algonquin Books), Emily Ruskovich, Idaho (Random House), Melissa Yancy, Dog Years (University of Pittsburgh Press). Here are some pictures to remember that special night. A play by play of the evening was also featured in LitHub.  Enjoy!

 

 

Q&A with One Story’s 2017 Mentor of the Year: Lan Samantha Chang

At One Story, we believe that being a part of the literary community should include helping others. In that vein, each year at our Literary Debutante Ball we honor one established author with a “Mentor of the Year” award for their extraordinary support of fellow writers. This year, our Mentor of the Year is Lan Samantha Chang.

Mentoring is the kind of work that happens behind the scenes, but is vital to keep the literary world alive and kicking. It comes in all forms—from teaching, to blurbs, to recommendation letters, to late-night reads, agent advice, one-on-one conferences, career guidance and inspiration. Behind each book on the shelf is an unseen mentor, giving an author the help they need to make their work better, to keep writing when they are ready to quit, and eventually give them a boost over the publishing wall.

Lan Samantha Chang exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring her, along with our Literary Debutantes this Friday May 12th at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn.

In today’s post, Sam kindly took time from her busy schedule to talk with One Story about writing and teaching, the importance of being a mentor, and what she’s looking forward to the most at the big party this coming Friday.

  1. You’ve been a great supporter of emerging writers. But who were your mentors and how did they help you along the way?

I was fortunate to work with extraordinary teachers when I was starting out.  At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I studied with James Alan McPherson, Frank Conroy, and Marilynne Robinson—all famous to the world for their writing and, to their students, for their presence in the classroom.  Each of them made at least one remark about my work that I will remember forever. But the special person who has read my work the most, and whom I turn to when I want to shed a tear, is the wonderful novelist Margot Livesey, who was a visiting professor at the Workshop at that time and is now on the permanent faculty there.

After the Workshop, I had the very good fortune to receive Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote Fellowships at Stanford University, where I studied with John L’Heureux, Nancy Packer, and Elizabeth Tallent.  They were all very generous with me, and Elizabeth, who is still at the program, remains vibrantly in my mind as a writing professor who somehow, by her presence, taught me the possibilities of life.  Eavan Boland, as well, gave me unforgettable guidance about what it means to be a writer in the world.

  1. Any words of advice for our nine Debutantes as they start their literary careers?

My one bit of advice is to keep hold of that part of you that first compelled you to start writing through the vicissitudes of “career.”  A writing life and a writing career are two separate things, and it’s especially crucial to keep the first.

  1. For the past twelve years, you’ve been the director of the Iowa Writing Program. How do you find a balance between teaching and writing?

Since taking on the directorship I have published one novel, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost.  Frankly, I lost the balance for a few years there, but I am regaining it now.  I’m not sure how writing has come back to me, but I’m very grateful.  I don’t know if I have any advice about keeping balanced.  It’s a challenge and being a parent on top of it is perhaps more challenging.  I’m lucky that my partner is a wonderful, deeply understanding father and husband.

  1. Your work has appeared twice in Best American Short Stories. Can you talk a bit about what you think makes for a great piece of short fiction?

People try to find rules for short story writing, and there are none.  Greatness is indescribable—you know it when you see it.  But I do think that a great short story is both ruthless and complete.  I also think that a great short story clearly belongs to only one author. 

  1. What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on May 12th?

Discounting a couple of award ceremonies, the One Story Literary Debutante Ball will be the first bona fide New York Literary gala event I’ve flown East to attend for since I moved to Iowa.  So there’s something exciting about looking forward to the experience. I anticipate with great excitement the “coming out” of the debut writers. I’m also looking forward to seeing former students and colleagues.  I’m thrilled that Angela Flournoy will be there, and I can’t wait to see Michelle Huneven and Emily Ruskovich.

Introducing 2017 Debutante: Lisa Ko

On May 12th, at our 8th annual Literary Debutante BallOne Story will be celebrating nine of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Lisa Ko, author of One Teen Story Issue #14, “Proper Girls” and the novel The Leavers.

The Leavers is a story about family and identity, spanning nearly twenty years. Eleven year-old Deming Guo lives with his mother Polly in the Bronx. One day, Polly goes to her job at the nail salon and never returns. When Deming is adopted by a suburban white couple in upstate New York, he becomes Daniel Wilkinson, beginning the arduous journey to discover not only his true self but the fate of a mother long lost.

Wynne Kontos: Where were you when you found out The Leavers was going to be published and how did you celebrate?

Lisa Ko: I lost my phone while I was on vacation. I hadn’t been able to get my voicemail or email all week because there was no reception, and when I got back to New York I checked my email and found a message from Barbara Kingsolver saying she had been trying to call me for days and to please call her immediately. It was about the PEN/Bellwether Prize, which Barbara established and funds, and which comes with a book contract with Algonquin Books. I’d submitted my manuscript months ago and promptly forgotten about it. When I called Barbara with my boyfriend’s phone, she told me I’d won. I was too jet-lagged for it to really sink in — I think I celebrated that afternoon by drinking coffee and then passing out— but the next morning I woke up at five in the morning and was like, OH MY GOD!

WK: There seemed to be a parallel between Deming’s biological mother Polly and his adoptive mother Kay when it came to the concept of “motherhood.” Both have very different journeys that lead them to being Deming’s mother. Both women are not without faults, but feel real love for the same child. Can you talk more about your exploration of motherhood and its variety of roles?

LK: Polly and Kay are both imperfect women doing the best they can. They also want the best for Deming, or what they feel is the best for him. On a more thematic level, they are inseparable from larger forces of class, race, language access, and citizenship status, and this impacts their parenting and expectations. Kay and her husband Peter can provide Deming with economic resources, but Polly can provide him with connections to culture, family, and identity. I wanted to explore the differences between the two.

WK: Deming (later Daniel) performs poorly in academics, which causes him to struggle as a child. Being a bad student is an example of how Deming’s life and family defy cultural stereotypes we see about the Asian community. Did you intend to confront these racial stereotypes?

LK: I didn’t set out to strategically write against stereotype—I just wanted to create a fully developed character. Deming’s poor academic performance is tied to the upheavals in his childhood, some uninspiring teachers, and his interests being more in art and music than in the traditional academic areas that his adoptive parents value and pressure him to pursue. I do hope my characters reflect the full diversity of Asian Americans. There are definitely plenty of Asian kids who are terrible students!

WK: Deming/Daniel also struggles with a gambling addiction. The addiction seems to come out of nowhere, though it’s obvious he is incredibly isolated without a lot of support systems. What role did the gambling addiction serve in exploring Deming/Daniel’s character?

LK: There’s a certain obsessiveness about Daniel’s character, as well as a desire for risk-taking. That, and his perfect poker face—a skill honed from having to pretend, to hide his true feelings in his new adopted family and town—make him susceptible to succeeding as a gambler. The theme of gambling is also prevalent throughout The Leavers. Chance, luck, the arbitrariness of immigration policies, and even being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time affect my characters’ lives in pivotal ways. From a storytelling point of view, Daniel’s gambling addiction is something he needs to face as part of his character’s journey. He treats others poorly because he’s not being honest to himself, and he has to learn to make decisions for himself rather than doing what others want him to do, whether it’s his parents or his friends.  

WK: In conversation with Barbara Kingsolver, you mentioned getting inspiration from the New York Times reports about women who were separated from their children and imprisoned in immigration camps. Immigration has been a growing cultural and political issue in recent years, but it has taken on new meaning after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. This just four months before the release of your debut novel about how unethical immigration practices can cause enormous harm for families and individuals. What role do you hope your novel has had and will continue to have in this growing conversation?

LK: By personalizing one fictional family’s story, I’d love for The Leavers to clear some misconceptions about undocumented immigration, as well as raise awareness about the for-profit prison system and its ties to U.S. immigration policies. These policies have been in place for years, and didn’t start with the Trump administration. There are “bed quotas” that mandate that a certain number of immigrants need to be imprisoned at any given time—during the Obama administration it was 34,040 immigrants per day. Trump would like to double it. Private prisons are profiting, big time, off of xenophobia, racism, the criminalization of immigrants, and the separation of families like Polly and Deming’s.

WK: The concept of “identity” is at the forefront of this novel in almost every way. Deming/Daniel and his mother both explore dual Chinese-American personas, the Wilkinsons learn what it means to be an individual versus a parent, even Deming’s best friend Michael uses academics to reach a new phase of adulthood. Each character in the novel is searching for their truest meaning, either because they have yet to find it or they feel it has been lost. Why is identity such an important concept for you as a writer and what does it mean to you?

LK: American culture in general has always been obsessed with identity and the right to define ourselves—self-determination, right? If we’re referring to racial and ethnic identity, I think that Asian Americans are often so invisible in media, and when we are visible, we’re often being defined by others. So to define ourselves and center our stories is to assert our own humanity in a way, and that can be critical. Polly and Deming deal with this, too: their own search for belonging is also a desire to be fully seen, understood, and to be able to define themselves on their own terms, rather than to be forced to fit the more limiting definitions that are placed upon them.

WK: What are you most looking forward to at the Debutante Ball?

LK: Having my story “Proper Girls” published in One Teen Story was a big turning point for me during a time when it felt like nothing was going well with my writing. I’m so excited to celebrate with One Story and the other authors!

One Story authors win a Pushcart & the Rea Award for the Short Story

One Story is proud to congratulate two of our authors, Jim Shepard and Jason Zencka, who have received prestigious recognition for their work.

Jim Shepard has won the Rea Award for the Short Story, following the publication of his celebrated new collection, The World to Come. The title story of this collection was first published in One Story, and went on to be included in Best American Short Stories 2013. The Washington Post writes, “Established in 1986, the Rea Award is given to writers who have made a ‘significant contribution’ to short stories. Prize judges cited Shepard’s ‘prodigious research’ into history and science and ‘X-ray vision of the soul.’ ” The Rea Award provides $30,000 to the recipient.

Shepard has taught for many years at Sirenland, an international writing conference co-founded by Hannah Tinti, Dani Shapiro, Michael Maren and Antonio Sersale. In 2016 he was honored with the Mentor of the Year Award at One Story’s Literary Debutante Ball. He’s an important member of the One Story family and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see him recognized for his long commitment to the short stories.

One Story is also thrilled to announce that Issue #216, “Catacombs,” by Jason Zencka has won a Pushcart Prize! “Catacombs” was Zencka’s first publication. The Pushcart Prize has been honoring writers published by small presses since 1976.

Join us in applauding both writers on these exciting awards!