Ursa Short Fiction

Ursa Story Company

Join authors Deesha Philyaw (The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) and Dawnie Walton (The Final Revival of Opal & Nev) for author interviews, book club discussions, and immersive short stories — all celebrating fiction from some of today's most thrilling writers, with an emphasis on spotlighting underrepresented voices. (Photo credits: Vanessa German / Rayon Richards) Support our show by becoming a premium member! https://ursastory.com/join read less

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Nana Nkweti: ‘I Always Knew I Was Going to Write Stories’
Oct 19 2022
Nana Nkweti: ‘I Always Knew I Was Going to Write Stories’
On the Season One finale of Ursa Short Fiction, co-hosts Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton talk to Nana Nkweti, author of the acclaimed short story collection, Walking on Cowrie Shells (Graywolf Press).  Nkweti’s story “Dance the Fiya Dance,” performed by Enih Agwe, was featured in Episode 15.  Read the full transcript. Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. About the Author  Nana Nkweti is a Cameroonian-American writer, Whiting Award winner, and AKO Caine Prize finalist whose work has garnered fellowships from MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Ucross, Byrdcliffe, Kimbilio, Hub City Writers, the Stadler Center for Poetry, the Wurlitzer Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her first book, Walking on Cowrie Shells, was hailed by The New York Times review as a “raucous and thoroughly impressive debut” with "stories to get lost in again and again." The collection is also a New York Times Editor's Choice, Indie Next pick, recipient of starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and BookPage; and has been featured in The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Oprah Daily, The Root, NPR, Buzzfeed, and Thrillist; amongst others. The work features elements of mystery, horror, myth, and graphic novels to showcase the complexity and vibrance of African diaspora cultures and identities. She is a professor of English at the University of Alabama where she teaches creative writing courses that explore her eclectic literary interests: ranging from graphic novels to medical humanities onto exploring works by female authors in genres such as horror, Afrofuturism, and mystery. Episode Links and Reading List:  “Dance the Fiya Dance” (Ursa)  Walking on Cowrie Shells (Graywolf Press)  Nana Nkweti’s website “Nana Nkweti’s Tales of Cameroonians at Home and in America” (Deesha Philyaw, The New York Times Book Review) Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine Bloodchild, Octavia Butler “The Secret Sci-Fi Life of Alice B. Sheldon” (NPR) More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Nana Nkweti: ‘I Always Knew I Was Going to Write Stories’
Oct 19 2022
Nana Nkweti: ‘I Always Knew I Was Going to Write Stories’
On the Season One finale of Ursa Short Fiction, co-hosts Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton talk to Nana Nkweti, author of the acclaimed short story collection, Walking on Cowrie Shells (Graywolf Press).  Nkweti’s story “Dance the Fiya Dance,” performed by Enih Agwe, was featured in Episode 15.  Read the full transcript. Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. About the Author  Nana Nkweti is a Cameroonian-American writer, Whiting Award winner, and AKO Caine Prize finalist whose work has garnered fellowships from MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Ucross, Byrdcliffe, Kimbilio, Hub City Writers, the Stadler Center for Poetry, the Wurlitzer Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her first book, Walking on Cowrie Shells, was hailed by The New York Times review as a “raucous and thoroughly impressive debut” with "stories to get lost in again and again." The collection is also a New York Times Editor's Choice, Indie Next pick, recipient of starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and BookPage; and has been featured in The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Oprah Daily, The Root, NPR, Buzzfeed, and Thrillist; amongst others. The work features elements of mystery, horror, myth, and graphic novels to showcase the complexity and vibrance of African diaspora cultures and identities. She is a professor of English at the University of Alabama where she teaches creative writing courses that explore her eclectic literary interests: ranging from graphic novels to medical humanities onto exploring works by female authors in genres such as horror, Afrofuturism, and mystery. Episode Links and Reading List:  “Dance the Fiya Dance” (Ursa)  Walking on Cowrie Shells (Graywolf Press)  Nana Nkweti’s website “Nana Nkweti’s Tales of Cameroonians at Home and in America” (Deesha Philyaw, The New York Times Book Review) Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine Bloodchild, Octavia Butler “The Secret Sci-Fi Life of Alice B. Sheldon” (NPR) More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Story: 'Dance the Fiya Dance,' by Nana Nkweti
Oct 12 2022
Story: 'Dance the Fiya Dance,' by Nana Nkweti
Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton introduce their latest short story pick, Nana Nkweti’s “Dance the Fiya Dance,” from her acclaimed 2021 debut collection, Walking On Cowrie Shells, published by Graywolf Press.  Through a series of journal entries, we meet Chambu, a DC-based linguistic anthropologist and “Halfrican” (daughter of a Cameroonian mom and African American dad) who processes a devastating loss while sparking a sexy new romance. For content advisories, scroll to the end of the show notes.   The story is performed by Enih Agwe, with music and mixing by Alexis Adimora, and illustrations by Halimah Smith at Artpce. Ursa Executive producers are Dawnie Walton and Mark Armstrong. You can read along at ursastory.com/dance. Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. About the Author  Nana Nkweti is a Cameroonian-American writer, Whiting Award winner, and AKO Caine Prize finalist whose work has garnered fellowships from MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Ucross, Byrdcliffe, Kimbilio, Hub City Writers, the Stadler Center for Poetry, the Wurlitzer Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her first book, Walking on Cowrie Shells, was hailed by The New York Times review as a “raucous and thoroughly impressive debut” with "stories to get lost in again and again." The collection is also a New York Times Editor's Choice, Indie Next pick, recipient of starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and BookPage; and has been featured in The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Oprah Daily, The Root, NPR, Buzzfeed, and Thrillist; amongst others. The work features elements of mystery, horror, myth, and graphic novels to showcase the complexity and vibrance of African diaspora cultures and identities. She is a professor of English at the University of Alabama where she teaches creative writing courses that explore her eclectic literary interests: ranging from graphic novels to medical humanities onto exploring works by female authors in genres such as horror, Afrofuturism, and mystery. More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Content advisory: Partner abuse, pregnancy loss. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s Creative Journey from Lawyer to Award-Winning Writer
Aug 31 2022
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s Creative Journey from Lawyer to Award-Winning Writer
Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton are joined by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of the short story collection The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You. That acclaimed 2021 book includes “Ghetto University,” the story we featured previously on the show.  Ruffin talks about the inspiration he takes from his native New Orleans, and his journey from a “three-piece suit-wearing, BMW-driving lawyer” to putting all of his energy into becoming a writer and telling the stories he was meant to tell. Read the full transcript. About the Author  Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the author of The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You, a New York Times Editor’s Choice that was also longlisted for the Story Prize. His first book, We Cast a Shadow, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the PEN America Open Book Prize. Ruffin is the winner of several literary prizes, including the Iowa Review Award in fiction. A New Orleans native, Ruffin is a professor of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University, and the 2020-2021 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Episode Links and Reading List:  “Ghetto University” (Ursa)  The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You (One World, 2021) We Cast a Shadow (One World, 2020) “Leaving the Law Behind for My Dream Job” (Oldster, 2021) About Maurice Carlos Ruffin Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s newsletter  New Stories from the South (edited by ZZ Packer, 2008) More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton   Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Story: 'Ghetto University,' by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Aug 24 2022
Story: 'Ghetto University,' by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
A professor in New Orleans loses his job and resorts to a new line of work – mugging tourists in the French Quarter.  “Ghetto University” is a short story by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, featured in his 2021 collection, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You. Listen to the story here, and read along at ursastory.com/ghetto-university  Then come back next week for Ruffin’s in-depth conversation with Ursa Short Fiction co-hosts Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton.  About the Author  Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the author of The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You, a New York Times Editor’s Choice that was also longlisted for the Story Prize. His first book, We Cast a Shadow, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the PEN America Open Book Prize. Ruffin is the winner of several literary prizes, including the Iowa Review Award in fiction. A New Orleans native, Ruffin is a professor of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University, and the 2020-2021 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Episode Links and Reading List:  “Ghetto University” (Ursa)  The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You (One World, 2021) About Maurice Carlos Ruffin Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s newsletter  Story Credits “Ghetto University” Written by Maurice Carlos Ruffin Performed by Allan Thomas Directed by Adetola Abdulkadir Sound Design and Mixing by Alicia Qian Illustrations by Anthony Santagati Music: “Zizu de Calp,” Blue Dot Studios Executive Producers: Dawnie Walton & Mark Armstrong   Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
The Life and Stories of Diane Oliver, Part Two (with Michael A. Gonzales)
Aug 17 2022
The Life and Stories of Diane Oliver, Part Two (with Michael A. Gonzales)
Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton welcome writer Michael A. Gonzales for part two of our deep dive into the life and work of Diane Oliver, who published six short stories before her death at age 22. (Part one of our series is here.) Gonzales published an essay about Diane Oliver in The Bitter Southerner earlier this year, and he talks about his work digging into the archives to put a spotlight on Black authors who never got the recognition they deserved. His column for Catapult, The Blacklist, has shared stories about authors including Charlotte Carter, Julian Mayfield, Henry Dumas, and Darius James.  Get the full transcript. About the Author  Harlem native Michael A. Gonzales is a cultural critic/short story scribe who has written for The Hopkins Review, The Paris Review, Longreads, Wax Poetics and Soulhead.com. Gonzales writes true crime articles for Crimereads.com and wrote the series The Blacklist about out-of-print Black authors for Catapult. His fiction has appeared in Under the Thumb: Stories of Police Oppression edited by S.A. Cosby, Killens Review of Arts & Letters, Dead-End Jobs: A Hit Man Anthology edited by Andrew J. Rausch, Black Pulp edited by Gary Phillips and The Root. His latest short story "Really Gone" was published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Oxford American.  Episode Links and Reading List:  “The Short Stories and Too-Short Life of Diane Oliver” (Michael A. Gonzales, The Bitter Southerner, 2022) Ursa Short Fiction, Episode Nine: The Life and Stories of Diane Oliver, Part One “Mint Juleps Not Served Here” (Diane Oliver, Negro Digest, March 1967) The Blacklist essay series on out-of-print books from Black authors (Michael A. Gonzales, Catapult) Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980 (2019) “Beautiful Women, Ugly Scenes: On Novelist Nettie Jones and the Madness of ‘Fish Tales’” (Michael A. Gonzales, Longreads, 2019) More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
The Life and Short Stories of Diane Oliver (Part One)
Aug 9 2022
The Life and Short Stories of Diane Oliver (Part One)
Content advisory: This episode contains a mention of a racist slur. Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton's two-part book club discussion on the life and work of Diane Oliver, who published six short stories before her life was tragically cut short in May 1966 at the age of 22.  Oliver was just a month away from graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop when she was killed in a motorcycle accident in Iowa City, Iowa.  Philyaw and Walton first discovered Oliver’s stories from writer Michael A. Gonzales, who wrote an essay about Oliver for The Bitter Southerner. In part one of Ursa’s book club episode, they go in-depth on four of Oliver’s short stories: “Key to the City,” “Health Service,” “Traffic Jam,” and “Neighbors.”   Full episode transcript. Episode Links and Reading List:  The Short Stories and Too-Short Life of Diane Oliver (Michael A. Gonzales, The Bitter Southerner, 2022) “Key to the City” (Red Clay Reader II, 1965) “Health Service” (Negro Digest, November 1965) “Traffic Jam” (Negro Digest, July 1966) “Neighbors” (The Sewanee Review, 1966) Diane Oliver obituary (Jet, 1966) More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Cleyvis Natera on ‘Fog,’ Staying True to Your Voice, and Embracing Short Stories as Play
Jul 25 2022
Cleyvis Natera on ‘Fog,’ Staying True to Your Voice, and Embracing Short Stories as Play
Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton chat with author Cleyvis Natera, author of the new Ursa Original short story, “Fog,” and the recently published debut novel Neruda on the Park. Read the full transcript. About the Author  Cleyvis Natera is the author of the debut novel Neruda on the Park. She was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Skidmore College and a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from New York University. She’s received honors from PEN America, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA). Her fiction, essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Review of Books, The Brooklyn Rail, The Rumpus, Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration, TIME, Gagosian Quarterly, The Washington Post, The Kenyon Review, Aster(ix) and Kweli Journal, among other publications. Cleyvis teaches creative writing to undergraduate and graduate students in New York City. She lives with her husband and two young children in Montclair, New Jersey. Episode Links and Reading List:  “Fog” (Ursa)  Neruda on the Park (2022) “Played or How I Failed at Becoming a Chapiadora” (Kweli Journal, 2019) In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd by Ana Menéndez (2002)  More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Support Future Episodes of Ursa Short Fiction Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Story: 'Fog,' by Cleyvis Natera
Jul 18 2022
Story: 'Fog,' by Cleyvis Natera
Content warning: explicit language, sex, depiction of violence. Author Cleyvis Natera debuts her original short story “Fog.” It’s the story of a worker at a Dominican resort who caters to high-end clients and must confront the choices he’s made to elevate his status and seek a different life for himself.  Read Along Listen to the story in your favorite podcast app, and read along at ursastory.com/fog.  Support Ursa Help us fund future episodes. Become a Member at ursastory.com/join. Story Credits “Fog” is edited by Dawnie Walton and performed by Alberto “Mojo” Peña, with music and sound design by Alexis Adimora, illustrations by Bex Glendining, and audio engineering by Deon Vozov (LA Voiceover). Ursa executive producers are Dawnie Walton and Mark Armstrong.   About the Author  Cleyvis Natera is the author of the debut novel Neruda on the Park. She was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Skidmore College and a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from New York University. She’s received honors from PEN America, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA). Her fiction, essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Review of Books, The Brooklyn Rail, The Rumpus, Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration, TIME, Gagosian Quarterly, The Washington Post, The Kenyon Review, Aster(ix) and Kweli Journal, among other publications. Cleyvis teaches creative writing to undergraduate and graduate students in New York City. She lives with her husband and two young children in Montclair, New Jersey. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
Chelsea T. Hicks on the Stories and Wazhazhe Language in 'A Calm & Normal Heart'
Jul 5 2022
Chelsea T. Hicks on the Stories and Wazhazhe Language in 'A Calm & Normal Heart'
Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton dive into the short stories of the acclaimed new collection A Calm & Normal Heart, with its author, Chelsea T. Hicks.  Hicks is a member of the Osage Nation, and the collection, published in June 2022 by Unnamed Press, also incorporates her ancestral language of Wazhazhe ie (which translates to “Osage talk”). The collection opens with a poem in the orthography, along with the Latinized spelling and English translation. Read the full episode transcript. Support Future Episodes: Become a Member in Apple Podcasts or at ursastory.com/join. About Chelsea T. Hicks Chelsea T. Hicks is a model, author and current Tulsa Artist Fellow. She is a Native Arts & Cultures Foundation 2021 LIFT Awardee and her writing has been published in McSweeney’s, Yellow Medicine Review, the LA Review of Books, Indian Country Today, The Believer, The Audacity, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She is a past Writing By Writers Fellow, a 2016 Wah-Zha-Zhi Woman Artist featured by the Osage Nation Museum, and a 2020 finalist for the Eliza So Fellowship for Native American women writers.  Her advocacy work has included recruiting with the Virginia Indian Pre-College Outreach Initiative (VIP-COI), Northern and Southern California Osage diaspora groups, and heritage language creative writing and revitalization workshops. She authored poetry for the sound art collection Onomatopoeias For Wrangell-St. Elias, funded by the Double Hoo Grant at the University of Virginia, where she was awarded the Peter & Phyllis Pruden scholarship for excellence in the English major as well as the University Achievement Award (2008-2012). The Ford Foundation awarded her a 2021 honorable mention for promotion of Indigenous-language creative writing. She is planning an Indigenous language creative writing Conference for November 2022 in Tulsa, funded by an Interchange art grant.  Episode Links and Reading List:  A Calm & Normal Heart (2022) Of Wazhazhe Land and Language: The Ongoing Project of Ancestral Work (Lit Hub) Osage writing system and orthography There There, by Tommy Orange (2019) Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino (1978) Night of the Living Rez, by Morgan Talty (2022) America Is Not the Heart, by Elaine Castillo (2019) Men We Reaped: A Memoir, by Jesmyn Ward (2014) Heads of the Colored People, by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (2019) Milk Blood Heat, by Dantiel W. Moniz (2021) Nobody's Magic, by Destiny O. Birdsong (2022) You Don't Know Us Negroes, by Zora Neale Hurston More from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!
William Pei Shih on ‘Happy Family,’ Flawed Characters, and the Messiness of Life
Jun 22 2022
William Pei Shih on ‘Happy Family,’ Flawed Characters, and the Messiness of Life
Co-hosts Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton speak with writer William Pei Shih, author of the Ursa Original “Happy Family,” a story about a lost childhood, a struggling restaurant, and a bygone era of Chinatown. (Warning: This episode contains “Happy Family” spoilers.)  Read the transcript. “Your character has to fail in telling their story,” Shih says. “I think that's one of the beautiful things about fiction. It truly is the messiness of life.” Shih’s stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Best American Short Stories 2020, VQR, McSweeney’s, and The Southern Review, among many other publications. He spoke with Philyaw and Walton about his approach to writing and developing characters, how “Happy Family” first came to life, and how hearing the audio version changed his storytelling approach.  This episode is sponsored by Catapult: Award-winning classes by writers, for writers. Ursa listeners get 20% off upcoming online classes with the coupon code URSA20. Go to catapult.co/classes. Additional production support for this episode by Veronica Smith. Episode Links and Reading List:  “Happy Family” (Ursa) “Enlightenment” (VQR)  “Necessary Evils” (Southern Review) What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah Cleanness, by Garth Greenwell Look How Happy I’m Making You, by Polly Rosenwaike More from William Pei Shih:  "The Golden Arowana" (The Masters Review), about a precious and rare fish, a young man and his grandmother from China, and the road trip of a lifetime—to Pittsburgh, and what happens when one finds more than they bargained for. "My Son," (F(r)iction, Spring 2021), a story focusing on father/son cross-generational and cross-cultural struggles and miscommunications.  More stories: from Deesha Philyaw and Dawnie Walton:  The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton Support Ursa by becoming a Member in Apple Podcasts, or by going to ursastory.com/join Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices Support our show by becoming a premium member!