Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us

Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us

Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us

Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us


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“Beautiful. The human condition is on full display in these glimpses of our essential connectedness. Perfect for our times.” 
—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

Sixty-five extraordinary writers grapple with this mystery: How can an ephemeral encounter with a stranger leave such an eternal mark?

When Colleen 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, all written in the second person—began pouring in. These short, insightful essays by a  remarkable cast of writers, including Elizabeth Kolbert, Pico Iyer, Lauren Groff, Gregory Pardlo, Faith Adiele, Maggie Shipstead, Lia Purpura, Kiki Petrosino, and Jamil Jan Kochai, are organized around such themes as Gratitude, Wonder, and Farewell and guide us both across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection. 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, the pieces are replete with observations about how to live and what we seek, and how a stranger’s loaded glance, shared smile, or question posed can alter the course of our lives. 

Moving and unforgettable, Letter to a Stranger is an irresistible read for the literary traveler and the perfect gift for anyone who is haunted by a person they met once and will remember forever.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781643751245
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 03/22/2022
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 234,272
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 1.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Colleen Kinder is an essayist and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic Traveler, Salon.com, 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 her MFA at the University of Iowa and is the author of Delaying the Real World and the cofounder of the online magazine Off Assignment (OffAssignment.com), where some of the pieces in this anthology originated. Her website is colleenkinder.com.

Table of Contents

Foreword Leslie Jamison xv

Introduction Colleen Kinder 1


To the Traveling Magician, Granada, Nicaragua Leslie Jamison 11

To the Woman Who Found Me Crying Outside the Senate, Washington, DC Rachel Swearingen 14

To the Father Paused Under the Tree, Grand Canyon, Arizona Anjali Sachdeva 18

To My Lost Trishaw Driver, Mandalay, Myanmar Pico Iyer 21

To the Child on the Plane, The Cascades, Oregon Lia Purpura 25

To My Arctic Vardøger, Pyramiden, Norway Alexander Lumans 28

To the Girl in the Tattoo Parlor, Dallas, Texas Michelle Tea 33

To the Face in the Subway Glass, Berlin, Germany Annie Schweikert 37


To the Loner at High Altitude, Tres Cruces, Peru Elizabeth Kolbert 41

To the First Responder After the Storm, New Orleans, Louisiana David Parker Jr. 44

To the Boy Who Climbed onto My Hammock, Mazunte, Mexico Emily Matchar 49

To the Man I Believe Was Good, Palermo, Italy Lauren Groff 52

To the Man Who Saw Cobras Dance, Auroville, India Meera Subramanian 55

To the Woman Who Wanted to Go Shoe Shopping, Xi'an, China Vanessa Hua 59

To the Chatty Man Who Pierced the Quiet, Canaan, New Hampshire Peter Orner 63

To the Boo Radley of My Childhood, Sydney, Australia Madelaine Lucas 66

To the Grandfather I Hardly Knew, Sicily Italy Peter Turchi 71

To My Grandmother, c/o the Mush Hole, Tit Kanatáhere Amber Meadow Adams 75


To the Girl at the Riverbend, Baker River, New Hampshire Howard Axelrod 81

To the Stranger in My Family, Bethesda, Maryland Kiki Petrosino 85

To the Man Who Spoke with His Hands, South China Sea Ying Reinhardt 89

To the Taxi Driver Who Looped Back to Get Me, Paris, France Irina Reyn 94

To the Woman Whose Shoulder I Slept On, New York City to Boston Naomi Gordon-Loehl 98

To the Source Who Kept Changing Costume, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Keija Parssinen 103

To the Father of the Baby with the Brain Freeze, Tucson, Arizona Margo Steines 109

To the Inescapable Teacher, Parakou, Benin Erica Cavanagh 113

To the Gambler I Met in Jury Duty, Chinatown, New York City Jenessa Abrams 118

To the Stranger from the Silver Hour, Rocamadour, France Colleen Kinder 123


To the Pharmacist on Futong West Street, Beijing, China Monet Patrice Thomas 133

To the Woman Who Spared Me an Orange, Oaxaca, Mexico Sarah Menkedick 136

To the Driver I Followed, Interstate 40, North Carolina Matthew Olzmann 139

To the Man Who Sold Me Shoddy Film, Harar, Ethiopia Meron Hadero 142

To Sandals Man, An airport terminal, Central China Craig Mod 145

To the Driver Who Was Not Godfrey, Kampala, Uganda Raksha Vasudevan 149

To the Waiter Who Left Me a Tip, Beyoglu District, Istanbul Turkey Michael Agresta 155

To the Doctor I Never Thanked, Tarrytown, New York Aria Beth Sloss 160

To the Woman Who Walked Beside Me, Yonkers, New York Sarah Perry 165

To the Drunk Mr. Flunchy, Avignon, France Gregory Pardlo 169


To the Seller of Breadcrumbs, Buenos Aires, Argentina Cutter Wood 177

To the Woman on the Park Bench, Central Park, New York City Aviya KusÚer 181

To My Steadfast Danish Soldier, Copenhagen, Denmark Julie Lunde 185

To the Young German Horsewoman, Chosen to Help with Réttir, Óbyggdasetur Íslands, Iceland Pam Houston 189

To the Lady of the Platform, New York, New York Jacquelyn Mitchard 193

To the Italian Whose Name I Lost, Florence, Italy Julia Glass 197

To the Traveler Who Hid Cash in Her Underwear, Rwanda-Tanzania border Ted Conover 202

To the Lady of the Blackberries, Happy Camp, California Kelly Ramsey 205


To the Logari Who Asked About the Sun, Logar Province, Afghanistan Jamil Jan Kochai 213

To the Roomful of Travelers Watching Reality TV, La Paz, Bolivia Anna Vodicka 217

To Mario, 26-Year-Old Bestie to My 78-Year-Old Mom, Sunnyside, Washington Faith Adiele 222

To the Son of the Victim, Santa Rosa, California Sophie Haigney 227

To the Woman with the Restraining Order, Hoodsport, Washington Meg Charlton 232

To the Woman We Met Before the Flood, Pai, Thailand Maggie Shipstead 237

To the Servant Girl Who Shared My Toys, Karachi, Pakistan Sheba Karim 242

To the Keeper of the Fawn, Chisago City, Minnesota Sally Franson 245

To the Woman Harboring a Gringo, San Isidro del General, Costa Rica Jesse Donaldson 249


To the Poet Who Disappeared, Okinawa, Japan Akemi JoÚson 255

To the Woman in the Earrings, Provincetown, Massachusetts T Kira Madden 258

To the Protagonist of a Too-Short Story, US Route If, New York Carlynn Houghton 262

To the Follower of Cheikh Bamba, Dakar, Senegal Emmanuel Iduma 265

To the Father of the Lost Chilean Son, Chilean base, Antarctica Carin Clevidence 269

To the Man Who Had a Wife, Coshocton, Ohio Rachel Yoder 274

To the One Who Was Supposed to Get Away, Ko Pha Kgan, Thailand Lavinia Spalding 278

To the Stranger My Doctor Heard All About, Portland, Oregon Robin Romm 281

To the Deliveryman Who Gave Me a Lift, Caracas, Venezuela Lucas Mann 285

To the Girl I Didn't Love on the Last Bus Home, Guanacaste, Costa Rica Jeremy B. Jones 288

Acknowledgments 293

About the Contributors 297

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