Authors to discuss the chance encounters that change lives

BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Literary Festival invites everyone to join them online on Friday, Aug 12, at 5 p.m., when the August edition of the Literary Cocktail Hour presents Colleen Kinder, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and Peter Orner with Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, the book in which 65 extraordinary writers grapple with this mystery: How can an ephemeral encounter with a stranger leave such an eternal mark?

When Kinder put out a call for authors to write a letter to a stranger about an unforgettable encounter, she opened the floodgates. The responses - “intimate and addictive,” reviewers say, all written in the second person - began pouring in.

These short essays by a remarkable cast of writers, including Elizabeth Kolbert, Pico Iyer, Lauren Groff, Gregory Pardlo, Leslie Jamison, and 60 others, “are organized around such themes as gratitude, wonder, and farewell and guide us both across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection,” says a news release.

The pieces are replete with observations about how to live and what we seek, and how a stranger's loaded glance, shared smile, or posed question can stay with us our entire life.

Letters are addressed to a first responder after a storm, a gambler encountered on jury duty, a waiter in Istanbul, a taxi driver in Paris, a roomful of travelers watching reality TV in La Paz, and dozens of others.

Kinder is an essayist and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic Traveler,, and The Best American Travel Writing. She has taught writing at Yale University, the Chautauqua Institution, and Semester at Sea.

A Fulbright Scholar, Kinder received a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa. She is the author of Delaying the Real World and the cofounder of the online magazine Off Assignment, from which some of the pieces in this anthology originated. She lives in Manitoba and her website is

Mitchard is The New York Times bestselling author of 22 novels for adults and teenagers, and the recipient of Great Britain's Talkabout Prize, The Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Awards, and named to the short list for the Women's Prize for Fiction.

Mitchard's first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and her essays have been published in magazines worldwide, anthologized, and incorporated into school curricula.

Orner, a two-time recipient of the Pushcart Prize, is the author of six books, including the novel Love and Shame and Love; the collection Esther Stories, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; and Maggie Brown and Others.

His memoir Am I Alone Here? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Tin House, and Granta, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories.

The recipient of the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Fullbright to Namibia, Orner holds the Dartmouth Professorship of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

Friday, August 12th's online Literary Cocktail Hour is free and open to the public. Register at

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, at 5 p.m., inspired by the Letter to a Stranger anthology, local author Barbara Morrison hosts a free hybrid letter-writing event in which participants are invited to learn how to write their own letter to a stranger who impacted their life. All are welcome.

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