From Our Staff | June 15, 2011

This past week I (finally) completed edits on the additional materials for two pieces that, although they were part of textBOX’s launch this past January, have very patiently been waiting for their extra pieces to join them online. To Cynthia Miller Coffel’s Editors’ Prize winning essay “Letters to David,” we have added an introduction, questions, writing prompts and a brief note from the author. As with all of the additional materials provided on the site, the goal is to enhance readers’ experiences, to illuminate a particular aspect of the text, or encourage consideration of some of the piece’s subtler elements.

 

Rural mailbox photograph by Mark McGee

In the note that accompanied the essay when it was first published in TMR, Coffel describes her motivation, saying, “I wanted, in my essay, to honor the generous impulse of my twenties—working to help all those poor people, trying to make our country better—and I also wanted to treat that impulse lightly, to admit that it was mixed up with arrogance and exuberance and naiveté. I also wanted to honor my friendship with the man I’ve called David. I think that kind of friendship is one you can only have at a certain point in your life.” Understanding the author’s intent can have a profound impact on a reader’s approach and while intent may not be everything, in this case Coffel’s explanation simply clarifies the tender, yet honest evaluation of her own past that is evident throughout “Letters to David.”

 

L. E. Miller’s short story “Kind,” is also about a woman reflecting on the life she led in her early twenties, although of course this story is fiction and its protagonist, Ann, a fictional character. In addition to adding our usual introduction, questions and writing prompts, I am pleased to announce that “Kind” is the first textBOX piece to be presented with a full audio version. Recorded along with the first-ever audiobook edition of TMR in early 2007, “Kind” is read by Mark Kelty and you can listen via the toolbox in the right sidebar of all the pages on which “Kind” and its additional materials appear.

There is a special kind of magic in listening to stories read aloud. More than once over the past decade I’ve found myself sitting in a parking lot, transfixed by PRI’s Selected Shorts, unable to complete whatever errand I intended to run until I’ve heard how the story ends. At AWP a few years back, I attended a Selected Shorts performance of B. D. Wong reading Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” and remember feeling as though the other thousand or so audience members simply weren’t there. It’s as if being read to can hold me perfectly in the present by reminding some part of my subconscious of the pleasure of being read to as a child.

(I admit this resembles my childhood not at all, but I like the photograph.)

Adding full audio versions of the stories, essays (and eventually poems – more on that soon, I promise) on textBOX has been something we’ve been thinking about for a while. This summer we are going to make it happen. “Kind” is just the first of many. William Harrison’s short story “Eleven Beds” has been recorded and will be edited soon, and our new team of anthology interns are already hard at work selecting which essays and stories will be next.

In the meantime, if reading “Letters to David” along with Cynthia Miller Coffel’s commentary, and listening to “Kind,” leave you wanting more, you can always listen to all of the pieces from The Missouri Review’s first audiobook issue (30.4, Winter 2007) here. Of course if you like that, you can always subscribe to our digital issue, which comes complete with a full audio version four times a year. And if that’s just not enough storytelling for you, maybe my favorite fiction podcasts (here, here, and here) can tide you over until we can get back down to the studio and start making more magic.

Nell McCabe is The Missouri Review’s Anthology Editor.

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