The Rumpus Red Carpet Report: The One Story Literary Debutante Ball

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Four hundred writers and readers turned out Friday night to celebrate one of the country’s best loved literary journals. Where were you?

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On Friday, May 21, literati gathered in Brooklyn’s Old American Can Factory to support a good cause: One Story magazine. The “Literary Debutante Ball,” One Story’s first benefit, celebrated emerging writers, and the longevity of the journal founded in 2002 by publisher Maribeth Batcha and editor Hannah Tinti.

One Story publishes one short story every three weeks—and never publishes an author more than once. The magazine is always on the lookout for new talent, and many of its 135 issues have been written by authors who had never before published fiction. Nine of these “debutantes” were presented on Friday night, each escorted by an established writer who is a mentor or friend. Sam Allingham was escorted by Dan Chaon; Cheston Knapp was escorted by Karen and Jim Shepard; Amelia Kahaney was escorted by Michael Cunningham; Grant Munroe was escorted by Jonathan Lethem; Nell Casey by Tamara Jenkins; Arlaina Tibensky by Victor LaValle; Ramona Ausubel by Michelle Latiolais and Ron Carlson; Cote Smith by Deb Olin Unferth; and Patrick Somerville was escorted by Hannah Tinti. Comedian and author John Hodgman served as the evening’s master of ceremonies.

The Rumpus made sure the Old American Can Factory was crawling with correspondents, editors, photographers, videographers, publicists, elegists, and hangers-on, all determined to cover the season’s most glamorous literary bash. Here are some of the highlights, provided by the Rumpus Glimmer Twins, Elliott Holt and Laura van den Berg.

John Hodgman prepares to break hearts with the iPad raffle.

Power duo alert! Super agent P.J. Mark & client Josh “King of the Novella” Weil share a moment.

Spirits—and flowers—were in full bloom at the One Story ball, as evidenced by Katie Holt & Reif Larsen.

Poker geniuses Colson Whitehead & Jonathan Lethem.

Over four hundred people turned out for the lively party at the Can Factory, an industrial complex where many artists and small presses—including One Story—have office space. Writers, editors, and literary agents were among the dazzling throng, many having flown in from the other side of the country. Debutante Cheston Knapp flew in from Portland, OR; recent One Story author Molly Antopol was in from San Francisco; and Cote Smith came from Lawrence, KS. Eloquently summing up the draw of the event, Smith was overheard to say, “I just couldn’t miss this.”

The Rumpus Glimmer Twins strike a pose.

Debutant Cote Smith & escort Deb Olin Unferth aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Michael Cunningham shares style tips with former students Anne Ray & Thomas Grattan.

Editors from other literary magazines were in attendance, including Rob Spillman of Tin House and Andy Hunter of Electric Literature. Literary agents Julie Barer, P.J. Mark, and Renee Zuckerbrot—each of whom represents several One Story authors—also considered the party a can’t-miss.

Writers we spotted included (in no particular order) Dani Shapiro, Josh Weil, Reif Larsen, Jennifer Vanderbes, Robin Black, Jeffrey Rotter, Rene Steinke, Elizabeth Mitchell, Aryn Kyle, Joshua Furst, Allison Amend, Joshua Henkin, Marie-Helene Bertino, James Scott, Naomi J. Williams, Helen Phillips, Rumpus Books Editor Andrew Foster Altschul, Mohan Sikka, Thomas Grattan, Meghan Kenny, Rachel Cantor, Elyssa East, David Goodwillie, and Colson Whitehead. Everyone looked fabulous—writers should dress up more often!—but at this event, instead of “Who are you wearing?” the question most likely to be asked was, “Who are you reading?”

Dani Shapiro & Michael Maren show their “Devotion” to each other.

Rob Spillman & Elissa Schappell bring some Tin House glam to the Can Factory.

Debutante Arlaina Tibensky takes flight.

Super-agent Nicole Aragi dazzled in white, One Story co-founder and publisher Maribeth Batcha was chic in black, and One Story Associate Editor Marie-Helene Bertino was in a gorgeous floor-length lavender gown. One Story Managing Editor Tanya Rey was in a stunning floral gown that turned lots of heads, and Hannah Tinti opted for a short floral number that showed off her lovely literary legs.

Josh “King of the Novella” Weil gives Meghan Kenny & Laura van den Berg the long and the short of it.

Andrew Foster Altschul and Joshua Furst kiss and make up after an epic literary duel.

Elijah Jenkins & Deena Drewis do their best Sean Penn.

Outside in the courtyard, where guests congregated at various points in the evening, we heard many variations of the same refrain: “That party was awesome!”

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Photos by Meghan Kenny.


Elliott Holt's fiction has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Guernica, Kenyon Review Online, and The Pushcart Prize XXXV: Best of the Small Presses. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn. Laura van den Berg’s first story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was published by Dzanc Books in 2009. More from this author →