Twice Upon a Time

In this week's episode of Selected Shorts: fairy tales revisited and canonizing John Lennon.

“Once Upon A Time” … The classic opening line of one of the oldest and most beloved sub genres of the short story, the fairy tale. Perhaps this program should be called “Twice Upon A Time,” because it offers attempts by contemporary fiction writers to take a second look at well-known, or not so well known, fairy tales.

Three of the stories featured on this program are from the intriguing anthology, intriguingly called My Mother She Killed Me My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer.  The first is the San Francisco writer and artist Jonathan Keats’s treatment of the Russian legend of Snrgurochka, the Snow Maiden, which he calls “Ardour.”  Keats’ re-telling focus on the idea of the heat of love and its desirable and undesirable consequences.  The reader is Lili Taylor.

Next, Russian-born writer Ilya Kaminsky tries his hand at the great Danish master Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Teapot,” in which a poor family’s wish for food gets out of control.  In Kaminsky’s multi-part tale the little pot links lives over time and space.

Kaminsky says he heard this story as a little child, read by his grandmother.  Coming upon it in print many years later, he was surprised to find it so different from what he remembered, “Imagination is just some remembering, from the other side,” he says.  “Little Pot” is read by an actress who is no stranger to make-believe, Sesame Street’s Sonia Manzano.

Our third selection from the anthology is Joyce Carol Oates’ new angle on Charles Perrault’s well-known “Bluebeard.”  This tale of a homicidal husband has been the source of operas and other musical compositions, ballets, and films.  Oates’ version is called Blue Bearded Lover and is a first person narrative by the latest of Bluebeard’s wives.   Oates writes “In my variant of this fairy tale, the young, beautiful, naïve bride is really not naïve, She is calculating and canny.”  She is brought to life by the voice of a beautiful young actress making her SELECTED SHORTS debut, Betsy Lippitt.

Our next story, “Relic,” by Robert Olen Butler is not exactly a re-told fairy tale, but we thought it belonged in this program’s assemblage, because it centers on a sacred, revered object, not unlike the Holy Grails, magic swords, Lost Arks, and magical stones that figure in many fairy tales.  Many of Robert Olen Butler’s short fictions deal with Vietnamese refugees who have found new homes in Louisiana and the first person narrator of this story is one of them, a successful businessman  who has acquired John Lennon’s shoe, and sees it as a link to his new, American, identity.  Ron Nakahara is the reader.

This fairy-tale laden program concludes with Richard Kennedy’s story, “The Porcelain Man.”   Humanoid creatures made of gingerbread, or straw often meet violent ends in fairy tales, but the pottery fellow who is the eponymous hero of this tale, is both protean and persistent.  The reader is the AcademyAward-winning actress, Estelle Parsons.

The musical interludes are “Dance on one spot,” from Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” and the same composer’s “Bluebeard’s Castle.”

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is Roger Kellaway’s “Come to the Meadow.”

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Announcing the 2011 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize.  This year's theme is stories set in restaurants and bars.  The judge is the author Jennifer Egan and the deadline is March 1, 2011.