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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019 Author Doug Henderson
“Some stories just flow out of you and you try to keep up as you write them. This story was not like that.”
The Iowa Review.
Panel 1: The English teacher stands in front of his class. He is smiling and relaxed, leaning against his desk. Over his shoulder, the whiteboard reads: You can go to London. You can go to Paris. But you can’t go to shopping.
He is blond with blue eyes, young and fresh-faced, a more idealized version of myself. He doesn’t have to pluck the space between his eyebrows or lose those last five pounds.
His top button is undone. His tie is loose. His shirtsleeves are rolled up, exposing his hairy forearms. Chest hair rises above his collar, sandy and golden. He is exotic to his students. They never knew blonds could be hairy. He is teaching more than language.
Panels 2–5: The teacher is speaking, but there are no word balloons. What he is saying isn’t important. He is teaching in the way that American college students spending a summer abroad do, with an emphasis on charm, on telling jokes, and on winning the class over. The smiles on the students' faces make it clear they are entranced. To watch him move, to be in his presence, is reason enough for the class to meet three times a week.
The Iowa ReviewF(r)ictionThe Rumpus
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“Every interaction between adult siblings presents a chance to get more clarity about the past. Hopefully, we’re able to seize at least some of these chances.”
“I wrote much of the story listening to jazz, including the title song, for inspiration on how to shift without imposing too much of a structure.”
“I wanted to portray the pain of trying to reach someone who is inside their own, unreachable pain, and how this often puts untenable pressure on relationships.”
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“When writing this story, I was thinking explicitly about a tendency in players to play games as murderous kleptomaniacs.”
“I think, in pursuit of truth, science and religion still have to wrestle with the strictures of human knowledge, error, pride.”
A Roundtable With the PEN America Best Debut Short Stories Judges: Tracy O’Neill, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Deb Olin Unferth
So many of the stories I liked best played with understatement and a sort of quiet, confident pacing.