Selected Shorts: Inspired by Robert Frank

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

A shot Ai Weiwei took in 1989 of the photographer Robert Frank and the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. A shot Ai Weiwei took in 1989 of the photographer Robert Frank and the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. (Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre and Chambers Fine Art)

This special edition of SELECTED SHORTS was inspired by a remarkable exhibition of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans,” which was on display at the museum between September 22, 2009 and January 3, 2010, recreated Frank’s legendary book The Americans.

The book first appeared in 1959, and presented an unvarnished view of American life — poor people, people of color, the achingly lonely, the alienated, the tawdry — that was considered controversial at the time, but which we now recognize as part of the complex texture of life in this country.

The Museum exhibit included a contest sponsored by the Met’s College Group and Symphony Space, in which college students were asked to write short fictions in response to one of ten photographs. The two prize-winning stories are heard on this program, along with other material that seemed to resonate with Frank’s work. We also hear brief commentaries by the Metropolitan Museum’s curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim.

The first work on the program is a poem by Allen Ginsberg, who was a close friend of Frank’s and appeared in his first film, “Pull My Daisy.”  “Sunflower Sutra” makes a dying sunflower into a symbol of America’s decay and regeneration, and is read by SHORTS host Isaiah Sheffer. 

The two contest-winning stories follow. First, Elissa Hudson imagines the “back story” to Frank’s “Funeral St. Helena, South Carolina” (1955), in a reading by Broadway star Boyd Gaines. Next, Bianca Galvez gives the bored operator of Frank’s “Elevator, Miami Beach” a robust and irreverent inner life. Condola Rashad reads, in her SELECTED SHORTS debut. Brief interviews with these promising young writers are included.

The second half of the program features scorching looks at America from the perspective of émigrés from Bosnia and Nigeria. First, the protagonist of Aleksander Hemon’s “Good Living” gets a startling glimpse of American suburban life while selling magazines door to door in a Chicago suburb. Boyd Gaines reads.

And our profile of America concludes with Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck,” read by Condola Rashad, in which a woman from Lagos experiences both the good and bad in American life while working as a waitress in a small Connecticut town.

The musical interlude in this program is “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” by Billy Strayhorn, performed by the Rob Brown trio on the album “Round the Bend.” The SELECTED SHORTS theme is Roger Kellaway’s “Come to the Meadow.”

  • "Sunflower Sutra" by Allen Ginsberg, read by Isaiah Sheffer
  • "The Death of Jim Taylor" by Elissa Hudson, read by Boyd Gaines
  • "Barbara Stanwyck, It's Your Time to Shine" by Bianca Galvez, read by Condola Rashad
  • "Good Living" by Aleksandar Hemon, read by Boyd Gaines
  • "The Thing Around Your Neck" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, read by Condola Rashad 

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please click here.

We’re interested in your response to these programs.  Please comment on this site or visit the SELECTED SHORTS Web page.


Boyd Gaines and Condola Rashad

Hosted by:

Isaiah Sheffer

Produced by:

Sarah Montague

Comments [2]


I loved the stories based on Robert Frank's photos. For those who want to view the photos, links are:
Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina:

Aug. 14 2011 12:29 PM
Joan Bowers from Seattle

I heard the story about Jim Taylor this pm. Had to sit in my car to hear the ending. Very powerful writing in capsule form. Great!

Aug. 10 2011 02:16 AM

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