Books

Got a little time on your hands? A machine at the Pru will give you a free short story.

From left: Bryan Koop, executive vice president at Boston Properties, Christophe Sibieude, cofounder of Short Edition, Mary Fagan, office manager at Boston Properties, and Loic Giraut, business developer for Short Edition, with the short-story dispenser in the Prudential Center.

From left: Bryan Koop, executive vice president at Boston Properties, Christophe Sibieude, cofounder of Short Edition, Mary Fagan, office manager at Boston Properties, and Loic Giraut, business developer for Short Edition, with the short-story dispenser in the Prudential Center.

Here’s a story. No, really. Here’s a story, on this strip of paper. Go ahead and take it. It’s free.

Beginning Wednesday, folks with a little time on their hands are encouraged to stop by the new short-story dispenser in the Prudential Center, one of the first of its kind in the United States. Short Edition, a French publishing start-up, has designed a sleek machine that produces an original story at the touch of a button.

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The company’s goal is to adapt literature to the modern, on-the-go world. Put a story where the people are, and see what transpires.

In France Short Edition has placed dispensers in train stations, airports, hospitals, malls — anywhere that someone might find themselves waiting. The user decides whether she has one, three, or five spare minutes to read, and the machine prints out a tale to fill that time.

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The stories are submitted by writers to the Short Edition website and chosen by readers who vote on their favorites. For now, the tales available in the United States will be translations from the French, but the company has just launched an English version.

“I’m totally dazzled by the idea,” says Anne Shackleford, development director for WriteBoston, the youth writing program started by late mayor Tom Menino in 2002. Members of the WriteBoston team will be on hand at the unveiling, and a senior from New Mission High School will read a story of her own.

Short Edition’s Loic Giraut says that the random element of the dispenser — you never know which story you’ll get of the several thousand the company has curated to date — is one of the allures. They do have the ability to customize, however. The French national train system recently requested all romance tales for the week of Valentine’s Day.

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Just as the dispensers recently installed on the Penn State campus will be used in conjunction with student writing programs, Giraut says, the company would welcome the contributions of WriteBoston students in the Prudential Center kiosk.

Boston Properties, which owns and manages the Prudential Center, is a WriteBoston supporter (as is The Boston Globe, which helped develop the program’s newspaper, Teens in Print). The real estate company will pay a monthly rental fee to host the story machine, a simple, missile-shaped stand in futuristic orange and black.

Bryan J. Koop, executive vice president of Boston Properties, said in a statement that he expects the “addition of our short story generator will provide another destination within the Back Bay, the cultural hub of Boston.”

Boston’s combination of literary history (Giraut mentions Poe’s birthplace and the Athenaeum) and innovation makes the city an ideal landing spot for a short-story dispenser, he says.

The first American venue to take delivery on one of the devices was Café Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s San Francisco restaurant. The filmmaker is a big fan of the short-story form, having started an award-winning literary quarterly in 1997. Since 2015, when Short Edition debuted the machine, it has installed nearly 140 of them, throughout France and as far afield as Hong Kong and Australia. So far, more than 600,000 stories have been distributed.

Short Edition began in 2011 as a Web platform (http://short-edition.com/en/) and print literary journal, which features the best short stories from the company’s writing competitions. First established in partnership with the French city of Grenoble, a cultured place where the mayor made headlines a few years ago for banning ads on city streets, the short-story dispensers provide an “unexpected experience,” Giraut says, a brief respite for people caught up in the daily rush of commuting, keeping appointments and habitually checking social media.

Some readers have told the company they felt as though the story they received had been written just for them.

Because everybody has a story. Or if they didn’t already, they do now.

James Sullivan cab be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.
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