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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019 Author Pingmei Lan
“It started with a voice—the young narrator telling me about her name.”
EpiphanyTahoma Literary ReviewCrab Orchard Review
That summer when Chairman Mao died I saw a funeral for the first time, a national one. It had gone on for weeks. Everywhere I turned, people were wearing black armbands and making white paper flowers. The usual sea of blue Mao suits seemed to be foaming, churning, shaping into dark and light swells. Thousands of mourning wreaths blanketed Tiananmen Square, eventually spilling down to the sidewalks of Chang’an Avenue. For days, then weeks, it looked like snow in summer.
Then an old farmer came to Beijing riding a donkey cart. He cried over Mao’s body while waving his copy of the Little Red Book. The Chairman looked down at this loyal subject from an old photo hung above the Tiananmen Fort. A half smile flashed permanently between his smooth pink cheeks and bright black beauty mark. The farmer made the news after crying for days and passing out, his fingers brittle and curled over the good book.
I didn’t understand that kind of devotion and grief, having just turned seven that spring. And the only thing I knew about death was from the old maid who lived across the hutong.
“My lover died and came back to life,” she said one day.
I walked away without answering. I didn’t know if she was crazy. I didn’t know if she was talking to me.
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A Roundtable With the PEN America Best Debut Short Stories Judges: Sabrina Orah Mark, Emily Nemens, and Deesha Philyaw
Many of the stories felt written on the edge of an edge of an edge of a world.
Learn about Mathapelo Mofokeng’s short story “The Strong-Strong Winds,” which was selected for ‘Best Debut Short Stories 2021.’
“The most innocent thing you can do is want to create”: Robert J. Dau Prize Winner Isaac Hughes Green
Learn about Isaac Hughes Green’s short story “The First Time I Said It,” which was selected for ‘Best Debut Short Stories 2021.’
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“Some studies have actually found that a cat's purring can help mend broken bones.”
“I think so much art—especially cinema—acts as an instruction manual for women.”
“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.”