Guest host Robert Sean Leonard presents three stories about fateful encounters. Henry Slesar's "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" was a classic "Twilight Zone" episode about over-ambition, read by Leonard. Leonard also reads Eric Schlich's "Head Over Knees," in which a teen's envy turns to empathy. And Helen Oyeyemi dresses an old fairy tale in new clothes in "Dornicka and the St. Martin's Day Goose," read by Colby Minifie.
Guest host Kate Burton presents four works about cats and dogs. "Dog" is at the center of a family power play in Richard Russo's tale, read by Stephen Lang. Saki's classic presents "Tobermory" the talking cat, voiced by Rene Auberjonois. How to live like a cat, in Helen Ellis's "Take it From Cats," read by Maria Dizzia, and a reversal of fortune in "Rosalyn's Dog," by Arthur Bradford, read by John Benjamin Hickey.
Guest hosts Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre, the hosts of the podcast "Crybabies," offer up some tearjerkers and share their love of crying. In "I Am the Bear," by Wendy Brenner, a misfit and a model have an odd encounter. The reader is Kate Walsh. The late David Rakoff contemplates mortality in "All the Time We Have," performed by Dennis O'Hare; and Maggie Smith's poem "Good Bones" tries to protect children from the bad things. It's read by Busy Philipps.
Guest host Cynthia Nixon presents a celebration of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," with a reading from the classic (by Joanna Gleason) and contemporary stories it inspired: Salley Vickers' "Reader, She Married Me," read by Chris Sarandon, and Audrey Niffenegger's "The Orphan Exchange," read by Tovah Feldshuh.
Guest host Jane Curtin presents two stories about travelling long distances. In Ray Bradbury's "Strawberry Window," a family living on a desolate Mars outpost tries to make a home. The reader is Boyd Gaines. Megan Mayhew Bergman's "Hell Diving Women" are an integrated jazz band touring the segregated South. The reader is Anika Noni Rose.
Guest host Jane Kaczmarek presents three stories with surprising twists and turns. A wife finds something unexpected in her local thrift shop in "Second Hand," by Andres Neuman. The story is performed by Kaczmarek. Dawn Powell's "Dinner on the Rocks" is an elegant comedy of bad manners, performed by Christina Pickles. And the salesman in Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Fortune Cookie" thinks he's found a formula for success. Michael Imperioli is the reader.
Guest host David Strathairn presents three stories about families. A lifetime goes by in minutes in Kelly Cherry's "The Parents," read by Kaneza Schaal. A father and son grieve differently after the death of a wife and mother in Tom Barbash's "The Women," read by Michael Imperioli. And it's a battle of wills in the kitchen in Annie Proulx's "The Garlic War," read by Shohreh Aghdashloo.
A story from Greg Ames, the author of a novel, Buffalo Lockjaw, and a collection of stories entitled Funeral Platter. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Southern Review, McSweeney's, North American Review, Catapult, and The Sun, among others. "Benefactor," is something of a cautionary tale for all would-be patrons of the arts; please don't let it stop you from sending us your tax-deductible donations. We recorded this story earlier in 2018 as a part of our live show in San Francisco during Sketchfest 2018. It's read by actor Lance Reddick, a multi-talented actor who has been in The Wire, Fringe, Bosch and the new Comedy Central series Corporate.
Today we're going to hear a story from Richard Bausch. This lifelong writer has produced novels and short story collections including Before During After, Peace, In the Night Season and the 2017 title Living in the Weather of the World. The actor performing it is David Strathairn, who is known for John Sayles films, Good Night and Good Luck, Lincoln, Alphas and so much more. Strathairn brings a lovely restraint to his performances, and as you'll hear, that quality lends a new dimension to Bausch's impulsive and vengeful narrator, a brother done wrong. We recorded this story during a live show in San Francisco as part of Sketchfest.
On this episode, a tale that involves a teenage evangelist coping with teenage lust. "God's Work," by Kevin Canty, was read during the annual Selected Shorts celebration of the Best American Short Stories series. The editor of the 2017 volume—novelist Meg Wolitzer - talks to host Aparna Nancherla after the reading describing Canty's keen insights about his characters which make them easily relatable, and there's some lovely lyricism to his writing, as you'll hear in today's story. The actor reading our story today is Jim True-Frost. Those of you who binge highbrow TV series will know him as "Prez" from The Wire, while others of us, well, we may never stop seeing him as the elevator operator who says "Buddy!" approximately 8,000 times in the "The Hudsucker Proxy."