Literature at the push of a button


Just think: one day, you could grab a fresh story from a machine on the corner.

Well, Ray Bradbury, the future is now. An automatic short story dispenser has recently been installed at the Edmonton International Airport to satisfy all of your whimsical literary needs. Travellers going through the gateway who are about to embark on their holiday journeys can stop by Gate 62 where there’s a sleek little machine that looks kind of like an air purifier standing by the green wall surrounded by plants. Press any of three buttons to instantly produce a story of lengths varying from one, three, and five minutes.

When organizer Jason Lee Norman first heard of such a machine, created in Europe, he knew that it was an idea that needed to come to Edmonton. He said that they’re all over France: in airports, train stations, and government buildings. “Anywhere you might be waiting in line,” he said.

“If you have a minute, you have a minute for a story.”

The French creator Short Edition has many of these ‘Distributeur d’histoires courtes’ machines already installed over the last few years. They’re just starting to expand into North America.

“We’re the first one in Canada. Their next step is growing an English community of writers, so we’re helping with that a little bit.”

There are currently close to 100 authors who have works loaded in the unit. Norman said that it’s a growing concern, as new stories become available.

“I want more and more. It’s not like an iPod: it doesn’t have a storage limit.”

Naturally, most of the contributors are from the metro Edmonton area but there are some international authors included as well. One of them is Morinville’s Jennifer Lavallee, who has been running writing workshops under the Third Verb banner along with author Jessica Kluthe for a few years now.

“I’m so excited to be a part of it,” she said. “It means a lot to me. It’s funny because when I write a story, I write it mostly for my own enjoyment. The thought of other people reading it … makes me happy. I can picture somebody at the airport reading it. It’s so far removed from myself. I think it’s wonderful.”

She praised Norman for always working on unique ways to promote local writers including his coffee sleeve stories and a recent book called Project Compass, which featured four separate but interconnected stories from local authors.

Her 800-word/three minute story in the airport’s new machine is appropriate for travellers. It’s called Aloha, from Hawaii and tells a quick story about a married couple with a strained relationship who won a trip to the island state. All of this makes Lavallee want to be a traveller herself.

“I was thinking, ‘I need to go on vacation so I can just go there and press the button until my own comes out.’”

Joining Lavallee and Kluthe are such notable local authors as Thomas Trofimuk, Janice MacDonald, Jennifer Quist, Jason Lee Norman, Wendy McGrath, Matthew Stepanic, Rayanne Haines, Jana Pruden, Sara Norquay, and Michael Hingston, the 2018 metro Edmonton writer in residence.

There’s no charge to access the service. He also said that the authors aren’t being paid for their work, at least for now, but he hopes that the unique exposure offers a big boost to his contributors.

“You can’t deny that this is what this is. This is a way for these writers to be read in a venue that they would not normally be read in. Also, the very idea of how the story is delivered, is something that creates a connection between the reader and the writer. It’s very fun. The possibilities are big.

Writers who want to get in on the Story Machine action can contact Norman at Stories should be less than 1,000 words to ensure that they fit in the generalized reading time guidelines.


About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.