Guest host Josh Radnor presents two stories that are favorites of novelist and screenwriter Richard Price, author of Lush Life and writer for the television series “The Wire” and “The Night Of” among other credits.  Price was the lively and mordant host of a special evening at Symphony Space, as you’ll hear in excerpts from his introductory remarks.  He loves Isaac Babel’s Odessa stories, which feature a host of colorful gangsters, laughable policemen, and petty criminals, because, he says, he was interested in Jewish “thugs.”  But this deliberately provocative comment scarcely does justice to Babel’s adroit and oddly lyrical depiction, in “The King,” of a family wedding among the gangsters.

In his short, intense life (he was shot under Stalin in 1940) Babel, a novelist, short-story writer and journalist, created three masterpieces of Russian-Jewish literature:  Red Cavalry, Story of My Dovecote, and Tales of Odessa.  “The King,” one of the Odessa tales, is read by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal’s work includes the films “Secretary,” “Sherrybaby,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Crazy Heart.”  On stage she’s appeared in “Homebody/Kabul” and “The Real Thing” among other works, and television appearances include the leading role in the miniseries “The Honourable Woman.”

Our second story is by writers’ writer Lucia Berlin, whom Price praises for the unexpected acuity of her seemingly mild tales.  Berlin had a small coterie of followers during her lifetime, and published in magazines such as The Atlantic, but came to posthumous fame with the volume of selected stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, which became a New York Times bestseller.  Other works include Homesick: New and Selected Stories, So Long: Stories 1987-92 and Where I Live Now: Stories 1993-98.

In “The Love Affair,” Berlin writes with rueful humor of an office friendship that takes on an unexpected dimension.

Reader Rita Wolf appeared in the films “My Beautiful Launderette,” “Girl 6,” and “Second Generation.”  Stage work includes “Homebody/Kabul” and “The House of Bernardo Alba.” On television she’s appeared on episodes of “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife.”  She’s a co-founder of The Kali Theatre Company.

Since Richard Price is a lover of cities and their grittiness, we thought our final work would partner well with his picks.  Written shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Colson Whitehead’s “Lost and Found” is a tribute to New York City, but makes the point that there isn’t one New York–the city is shaped by the experience of each resident, and therefore exists both materially, and in memory.  The essay is part of Whitehead’s collection The Colossus of New York.  To read the piece, we got a great New Yorker and frequent SHORTS reader, Alec Baldwin.

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