Selected Shorts: So You Want to Change the World?

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Social revolution and personal revelation, in three stories presented by Robert Sean Leonard.

Our first two stories date from the turbulent 1960s, when a generation of African-Americans began to demand their rights, on the streets, and in print.   In “Homegirls on St. Nicholas Avenue,” read by Marsha Stephanie Blake, the writer Sonia Sanchez remembers when Malcolm X changed her life.  Sanchez is a poet, teacher, and activist whose works include I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Does Your House have Lions?, and Like the Singing Coming Off of Drums.  Marsha Stephanie Blake has appeared on Broadway in “The Merchant of Venice” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Her television work includes the shows “Elementary” and “Law and Order: SVU.” 

Henry Dumas’ “Strike and Fade,” brings back the volatile Harlem of the 1960s.  Its first-person jive narrative has the energy and impatience of the youth whose lives and hopes were being threatened by authority, and who were prepared to fight back.  Dumas died tragically young at 33, and his work was posthumously published through the efforts of his friend and collaborator Eugene Redmond, and of Quincy Troupe and Toni Morrison.  His works include the poetry collection Play Ebony, Play Ivory, and an anthology of short stories, Ark of Bones.

“Strike and Fade,” was performed by Francois Battiste, whose stage performances include “Detroit ’67, “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Good Negro” at the Public Theater, for which he received the Obie Award.

In our final story, a mild-mannered teacher and his activist mother are brought to life by “Nurse Jackie” star Edie Falco, in Charles Baxter’s “Fenstad’s Mother.”  In a delicate study of two contrasting characters, he strives to be, while she simply is.  SHORTS literary commentator Hannah Tinti notes that Baxter is a writers’ writer, and his book Burning Down the House a go-to source for ways to “make your story come to life.”  Baxter’s other works include the story collections Relative Stranger, Believers, and Gryphon: New and Selected Stories.  He was a 2011 recipient of the Rae Award for the Short Story, among other honors.

SHORTS literary commentator Tinti and host Leonard briefly discuss all three stories on this program.

“Homegirls on St. Nicholas Avenue,” by Sonia Sanchez, performed by Marsha Stephanie Blake 

“Strike and Fade,” by Henry Dumas, performed by Francois Battiste

“Fenstad’s Mother,” by Charles Baxter; performed by Edie Falco

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

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And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at

Our far-flung correspondent: literary commetator Hannah Tinti records tracks at Sound Trap Studios on Whidbey Island, WA