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(Soundbite of clock ticking)

GUY RAZ, host:

All right, the moment of truth. We've had 4,000 stories that came in for Round Six of Three-Minute Fiction, and we have a winner.

And here with me to help out is novelist and our judge this round, Round Six of Three-Minute Fiction on WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Chimamanda, hello.

MS. CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE: Hello, Guy.

RAZ: So the challenge that you set out for this round was to have one character tell a joke and one character cry. What did the writers do with that challenge?

Ms. ADICHIE: It was interesting, lots of animals featured in many of the stories. And also, some people were able to make the crying not be about sorrow, if that makes sense, which I found interesting. So I've just really enjoyed reading them.

RAZ: So Chimamanda, who's the winner?

Ms. ADICHIE: Am I allowed to take a little longer so people just get a bit more frustrated?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ADICHIE: All right. So the winning story is a story called "A Saint and a Criminal," and it's by Lauri Anderson of Lubbock, Texas.

RAZ: I love that story because that was actually a finalist that you picked earlier. We have Susan Stamberg, and she is going to read the entire story for us right now. Let's take a listen, and then we'll call up Lauri Anderson.

SUSAN STAMBERG: (Reading) My father tells a joke about a saint and a criminal who meet at a bar. He forgets the punchline, but I get his meaning. I am supposed to be one, my brother the other. Until yesterday, I might have known which one I am, but now, I could be either.

Yesterday, the trick was: Don't tell your brother about his wife, the one he's been married to for less than a year, the one he loves but sometimes hurts. Do not tell your brother that she is pregnant with some other man's child, that you have seen her yourself at the mall, and she is already doing the kind of walk that is more like a waddle.

My father is certain this information can do no good, not when my brother is finally eating again, not when he has finally been matriculated back into the general population.

He is right, my father. I know this. But somehow, this knowledge, it perches on the edge of my tongue like a tiny bird trying to flap its wings.

I cough, I try to swallow. I vow to stay silent. But I keep thinking about all the times my brother came home late or not at all, my father's brow stitched with worry, my mother crying in the bathroom where she thought I couldn't hear.

I think of that night, the late-ringing phone, the three of us shuffling about in the dark, the coat I put on inside-out. All those lights made the unfamiliar street seem almost foreign, the reds and blues casting everyone as garish characters, puppets in a show.

By the time we arrived, the ambulance had already carried the woman away. We surveyed the damage, my father running his hands through his hair, my mother shredding a Kleenex into shaggy bits that rested on the grass at her feet.

Before us, my brother's squatty Chrysler sat in the middle of someone else's living room, the hole in the exterior wall like a mouth full of jagged teeth. The television, upside down in the fireplace, spun gray static from its screen.

I wanted to know: Did he hear the woman screaming, or did he find her after, pinned by the bumper, a last spasm of the hand, a final word and then nothing?

I looked for him and finally found him in the back of a cruiser, his head ducked low. I could have called to him, I guess, let him know we were there, but instead I watched him across the crowded driveway, both of us bathed in strange light, while my father talked with the officer in charge and my mother sobbed into the back of her hand.

Yesterday, at visiting hours, my brother looks a little bit more like himself. He is laughing, no longer sullen, no longer afraid to look us in the eye. He seems hopeful, even, his first opportunity for parole in just six months, a new cell assignment. He's even made a friend.

What kind of a person wants someone she loves to pay and keep paying? What kind of person tallies in her mind every harm done her? I sit on my hands. I avoid his eyes. But there is no escaping the new quality of his voice. If I didn't know better, I would think he was the same man, the same as before the accident, the same brother I have always known.

The tiny bird on my tongue is raising its wings. The feathers tickle my throat. I cough. I open my mouth.

RAZ: That story is "A Saint and a Criminal" by Lauri Anderson of Lubbock, Texas. And Lauri Anderson is with us right now.

Lauri, congratulations.

Ms. LAURI ANDERSON: Oh, thank you so much.

RAZ: And meet Chimamanda. Chimamanda, Lauri. Lauri, Chimamanda.

Ms. ANDERSON: Hello.

Ms. ADICHIE: Hello, Lauri. Congratulations to you.

Ms. ANDERSON: Thank you.

RAZ: Chimamanda, first, before I ask Lauri a bunch of questions, can you tell us what it was about this story that distinguished it? Why did you pick this one?

Ms. ADICHIE: When I started to read this, there was sort of an immediate sense of a writer who was sure. And I found the writing quite beautiful. I thought that it was well-done in the way that things were left unsaid, but the unsaidness of these things propelled the story and kept the interest of the reader. And also, I thought the characters were very richly drawn.

RAZ: Lauri, what do you do out there in Lubbock?

Ms. ANDERSON: I'm a graduate student, actually, at Texas Tech University in creative writing.

ADICHIE: Can I ask Lauri a question about the story?

RAZ: Of course.

Ms. ADICHIE: I'm just sort of curious about how the story came about and whether this is - is this part of something larger, or did you actually just write this for the Three-Minute Fiction contest?

Ms. ANDERSON: Well, I sort of had these ideas kind of tumbling around in my head. But I didn't exactly know what form they would take. And then I saw the contest, and I thought, well, maybe it can work as a really short story, because really, all I had was just a series, you know, a handful of scenes. So I guess it worked out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ADICHIE: It worked very well.

RAZ: It did, indeed. How would you describe this story?

Ms. ANDERSON: You know, I think it's about two people who are in these prescribed roles, and they don't exactly know how to get out of them. And as much as she wants to be the better person here, I don't know if she can.

RAZ: I was wondering, Lauri, why you chose to end it the way you did, because it's kind of an open-ended ending, right?

Ms. ANDERSON: Right. Yeah.

RAZ: You kind of like leave us hanging there.

Ms. ANDERSON: You know, I ended it that way, sort of on the verge of something, because that's a little bit more interesting to me, I guess. The moment before the decision is made seems sort of rife with complication and emotion in a way that maybe the climactic moment isn't.

RAZ: Lauri, Chimamanda, as you know, is an accomplished short story writer. Did you have any questions for Chimamanda, any advice or things that you maybe wanted to ask her?

Ms. ANDERSON: Yeah, yeah. I'm always curious about a writer's process and where they write and how long they write each day. I think as a beginning writer, I'm still trying to figure those things out.

Ms. ADICHIE: You know, I very often get asked about my process, and I'm always tempted to invent a story about how I have to light candles and meditate for 15 minutes and do some yoga, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ADICHIE: But I really don't have a set process. I do try every day to make out time to touch base with my work. So sometimes I'll read something I've done before, I will edit something that I've done. And I often say that every day, I must give at least half an hour to my work.

RAZ: Lauri, are you going to celebrate tonight, bottle of champagne?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANDERSON: Yeah, yeah. I mean, as a graduate student, we don't make a whole lot of money. So a nice dinner would be a good celebration for sure.

RAZ: That's Lauri Anderson. She's the winner of Round Six of our Three-Minute Fiction contest here on WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Her story is called "A Saint and a Criminal."

You've also been hearing from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She's the author of "The Thing Around Your Neck" and half of a yellow sun. She was our judge this round.

You can read Lauri's story and those of other contenders and finalists at our series page. It's npr.org/threeminutefiction.

Lauri, thank you so much, and congratulations to you.

Ms. ANDERSON: Thank you very much.

RAZ: And of course, Chimamanda, I'm going to miss you. And I hope you're going to come down to Washington, D.C. from Baltimore to see us.

Ms. ADICHIE: I will. I certainly will, Guy, just to see you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: And we're going to be taking a short break from Three-Minute Fiction. Stay tuned for announcements about Round Seven. We hope to launch that early in the summer.

(Soundbite of clock ticking)

JACKI LYDEN, host:

And another announcement. At the top of the program, we mentioned that Guy was on special assignment today. Well, he was in a delivery room. Abraham Leo Raz was born today. A big congrats to Guy, mom Hannah, big brother Henry from everyone here.

For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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