Walking up to a machine, pressing a button labeled “Carolina Stories” and watching the receipt-like paper emerge just for you isn’t exactly the most common way to go about finding a new short story to read.
But it’s a unique experience that Kylan Rice, a Ph.D. student in the College of Arts & Sciences’ English department, has been helping make a reality through Arts Everywhere’s short story dispensers, which first came to the Carolina community in 2019.
The eight short story dispensers are part of a collaborative partnership with UNC Press, the English and comparative literature department, the Creative Writing Program and Arts Everywhere, to publish short stories from local and global authors, including students and community members.
The machines are located throughout campus and the Chapel Hill community, including the Chapel Hill Public Library, the Carolina Union and the UNC Adams School of Dentistry.
With the press of a button, you might receive a story written by a student, a faculty member or a professional writer from around the world. That connection between the UNC-Chapel Hill community and the world outside our low stone walls is one of Rice’s favorite things about the short story dispensers.
“These machines manage to make the local global and situate UNC in a larger literary network,” says Rice. “They act as portals to voices around the country and around the world, and I think that’s an exciting feature.”
Rice began managing the short story dispensers scattered across the Chapel Hill community during the height of the pandemic. He was determined to keep the initiative going despite challenges.
“Working closely with the machines during the early months of COVID was interesting because most of campus was shut down,” he says. “Eventually, I managed to transplant about half of the dispensers to new public places where people could enjoy them, but there was a short period of time where I felt like I was the only person interacting with them — a lone shepherd for an unwieldy mechanical flock. Since the machines are so physically located, they require people to be out and about, but now we’re slowly trickling back.”
There’s much more than just refilling the paper in the machines to keep the program going. Managing this venture requires Rice to connect and network with members of Carolina’s arts community, organize events that highlight the dispensers and support a team of undergraduate editors who edit and manage the content in the machines.
“My job is to make sure that people are using the machines by organizing events or placing them in high-frequency high traffic areas,” says Rice, “And then also to make sure the student editors have all the resources and support they need. They’re the real stars.”
It’s the people, he says, that keeps the project fun.
“Most of all, I enjoy working with the people with whom I come into contact because of the machines, whether virtually or in-person,” Rice says. “This includes the fine team at Arts Everywhere, our support crew in Paris, community leaders, business owners, building coordinators, local writers, advanced technicians and especially the amazing student editors who exercise such intelligent care as they work to curate material for circulation via the dispensers.
“People might be surprised to learn that such a vibrant, evolving community supports the existence of this quirky local publishing network.”