GUY RAZ, host:
For the past five weeks, we've going through thousands of stories you all sent in for this round of Three Minute Fiction here on weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. The challenge this time was each story had to have a character who cried and a character who told a joke. Now, we're almost finished reading through all of those stories that came in and in a few weeks, our judge this round, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, will pick a winner.
But we've pulled her away to give us an update. And, Chimamanda, it's great to have you back.
Ms. CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE (Author): It's good to be back.
RAZ: So, first of all, I hope you're having fun. I hope this is not a burden to read all these stories.
Ms. ADICHIE: No, no, it's definitely not.
RAZ: And how have they been so far?
Ms. ADICHIE: They've actually been very good. I have been impressed by how they are actually stories. They're not just mass scene settings because that's what I imagined they might be because you have such little space to write a story. But many of these stories are actually stories and they do emotion and character well and they are interesting and they keep me reading and I've been quite impressed.
RAZ: So, Chimamanda, we asked you to come in to check in with us and ask you to read from, you know, a story or two that caught your eye so far. The first one you picked is something that we actually posted on our website a few weeks ago. It's called "The Crimson Tree." Can you read a bit of that for us?
Ms. ADICHIE: (Reading) I picture An Yi, whom I barely knew, with her chicken. I picture her crying, her face in its feathers. She should not have broken the rules, I say automatically, but even as I say the words I feel a wave of envy. I want a chicken. I want instructions from a ghost. She even named the chicken, says Jing. She called it Pengyou. Every night, she sang it a sweet song in her dialect. How do you know all this? You're not even in her dormitory.
At this, Jing laughs so hard her fingers almost slip and a girl in the next row glares at her.
RAZ: That story is "The Crimson Tree" by Angela Sorby of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And, Chimamanda, that story has gotten some mixed reviews actually, on the website, if you look at the comments. What was it about this story that drew you to it?
Ms. ADICHIE: Well, first of all, it was about something...
Ms. ADICHIE: ...which, you know, which I always appreciate. But also I love that it was told in a certain restraint, a certain light touch, and because of that it avoided sentimentality. Because it's really about Chinese workers who are working in just horrible conditions and it's not so much about this girl who has killed herself. It's also in the larger sense about being in the soul-killing job so that these people ostensibly alive really aren't. They're all dead. They're really just sort of, you know, going through the motions and all humanity has been sort of, you know, removed from them.
It's powerful but it's not too obvious.
RAZ: Right. You brought another story with you. This one's called "Dolls." It's by Ty Nolan of Tempe, Arizona. Can you tell us what the story's about?
Ms. ADICHIE: What I was drawn to in particular in "Dolls" was the sense of melancholy and the idea of losing the way things were and also culture clash. So, there's the Native American life, the rule, the reservation and then it's contrasted with the city where this character has a life that's very different. And there's a sense of mourning, of a passing of a way of life that I found very moving.
RAZ: Can we hear a bit of that story?
Ms. ADICHIE: (Reading) Three of our family have marched through death's doorway - two lubed through with alcohol and one who fell in a manner considerably heavier and more permanently than the rains of my birth month. Capricorn, Virgo, and Aries were removed from the calendar in a way Pope Julian would have admired.
I grew up on our reservation, three hours away from anything one would recognize as a city, and five hours drive from an airport where anything bigger than a crop-duster would take off. At night, the smell of juniper pervades the air. Perhaps the geographic isolation has allowed us to keep our old ways more pristine, but I suspect our attitude is a far better barrier than the simplicity of miles.
RAZ: That's novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reading from the original story "Dolls." It's one of her favorites that came in this round of our Three Minute Fiction contest so far. And Chimamanda will continue to read your stories until she picks a winner.
You can read the full versions of all of Chimamanda's top picks at our website. It's NPR.org/ThreeMinuteFiction - three minute fiction all spelled out, no spaces. And you can also join the ongoing conversation at our Three Minute Fiction Facebook page. Chimamanda, thank you so much for checking in with us and we'll talk in a couple weeks.
Ms. ADICHIE: Thank you.