Uncategorized | May 16, 2006

Joanna Luloff’s short story, “Let Them Ask,” received the 2006 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for fiction from The Missouri Review. It will appear in our forthcoming issue (29:1). Below, Luloff talks briefly about the roots of the story.

“This story was prompted by my experiences teaching English in a village school in southern Sri Lanka. The Peace Corps had arranged for me to live with a host family, and I became quite close with my host sister, who, at the time, was 14 years old. She was incredibly bright and determined, but she was from a lower-caste family who was quite poor, and her only chance at further education was through excellent exam scores and scholarships. She was always after me about starting an co-ed English club, and after much argument, I finally relented. So, part of the story is based on that, well, failure. In some ways, this particular story was easier to write than some others I’ve written as part of a linked collection set in Sri Lanka. I was using a lot of first-hand experience and Amali was a character who had appeared in other stories I had written, so I felt like I already had a good grasp of her character. But, because it was more closely based on my actual experiences, it was hard sometimes to separate myself from the “real story”–i.e. what really happenend to Amali and Chamila and to me, in order to craft a “fictional” story around those real experiences, a story that ultimately diverges quite a bit from my own memories.

“I thought about different ways to tell the story–should it be through the American’s point of view? First person? Third-person? But, in the end, I really wanted to look at how my host sister might have viewed me–my reluctance, my seeming laziness, my unprofessionalism. What she would have made of a 23 year-old, single woman, who left home to be a teacher, but in most ways, acted like a young girl. I also wanted to reflect on what I saw as a cultural tendency toward silence, particularly when the war was concerned, certainly when personal loss was concerned. When juggling all of these aims, I ended up choosing Amali’s perspective as a way to enter a story that is trying to be about all of these things–cultural differences, gender separation, social propriety, and a kind of privacy/silence that can be stifling and lonely.”

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