Short story ‘vending machines’ come to Carolina

The machines, which have been installed in various locations on campus, deliver fiction and poetry from Carolina writers.

Students use a short story dispenser.
Seniors Elina Rodriguez and Hampton Smith use a vending machine that dispenses short stories on April 5 in South Building. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A new kind of vending machine came to Carolina this week, dispensing free short stories written by UNC-Chapel Hill students, faculty and staff.

The literary vending machines print a blend of original, classic and contemporary works of literature at eight locations throughout campus and in Chapel Hill, including the Carolina Union, Adams School of Dentistry and the Chapel Hill Public Library, to encourage people to engage with the literary arts.

The installation is a collaboration between Arts Everywhere, UNC Press, the College of Arts & Sciences’ Department of English and Comparative Literature, and publishing company Short Edition.

“Bringing literature into the daily lives of people who may not normally be in that fictional fold is going to be valuable to everybody,” said Daniel Wallace, Creative Writing Program director and professor.

Although the short story dispensers are among the dozens of exhibits, activities and performances that are being hosted as part of Arts Everywhere Day on April 12, they will remain on campus throughout the year, occasionally rotating to new locations, with new stories being added regularly.

“We are excited to integrate the literary arts into Arts Everywhere. At the touch of a button, people are able to discover or re-discover the joy of reading in unexpected places,” said Emil Kang, special assistant to the chancellor for the arts. “We hope this project continues to build on our mission to transform everyday spaces into areas that spark creativity and to serve as a platform to showcase the diversity and abundance of arts at Carolina.”

Users will be able to print a randomized story from a catalog of short stories written by Carolina-based writers, as well as other stories from around the world. Each story will be printed on eco-friendly paper.

“This is my first publication, and I think it’s fitting because UNC is definitely where I learned to love writing again,” said senior Caroline Rose Porter, whose short story “Seeing Other People” will make its public debut in the dispensers. “I think it will be really fun to have something here that is enduring through the machine.”

UNC Press director John Sherer was eager for his organization to be a part of the collaboration.

“Our mission is to connect writers to readers,” Sherer said. “In a distracted age of algorithms and artificial intelligence, these dispensers are a uniquely clever way to bring creative writing to new audiences.”

Wallace hopes the dispensers will bring joy to passersby while also highlighting the writing talent for which Chapel Hill is known.

“This is a unique forum for publication, and I think people are going to be really excited about it,” Wallace said. “I hope this will also let people know about all the talent that surrounds them everywhere on campus, in town and all across the state of North Carolina.”