Eight Tiny Stories, Translated From the Emoji

James Hannaham and John W. Bateman turn random emoji into microfiction

First, an origin story. In October of 2016, my friend John Bateman became obsessed with his iPhone. Of course, this did not make him unique. Specifically, he’d become fascinated with a new texting feature. Now, instead of just autosuggesting the word “bird,” your SMS also gave you the option of texting an emoji of a bird’s head!

When I told John I was doing “just peachy,” he texted, “When I type peaches, it [Peach emoji] shows up,” and then sent a text of a giant peach. I wasn’t sure if John knew that sending a big peach emoji to someone was like showing them a butt, so I tried to discourage him, fearing a barrage of eggplants. This worked not at all. He texted me an apple! A cookie! A snake! A pile of books!

“This is kind of amazing” he wrote. I told him, “Knock yourself out,” and then sent a text consisting of a series of five emoji I had randomly discovered by typing in the words for them. John, who, like me, is a writer with an interest in the interplay of words and images, assumed I’d hidden a cryptic message in the random sequence of little pictures. “Write a package, spider earth cutting?” he asked. I only responded with five more random emoji. “The Cheese running bear got caught in a rainshower looking for diamonds,” he mused. And thus began a game that has continued to this day. One of us texts five random emoji to the other, and the recipient has to write a story (roughly of tweet length) to explain each of the emoji in order.

Below are eight of our collaborative creations.

—James Hannaham

About the Authors

James Hannaham’s most recent novel, Delicious Foods, won the PEN/Faulkner and Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, and was a New York Times Notable Book. He teaches in the Writing Program at the Pratt Institute.

John W. Bateman was the first person in his family to leave the fly-over states in more than 200 years (although it didn’t last). He recently finished his Master’s in English and is back in the South, looking for words in unsuspecting places. Occasionally, he climbs rocks and has a secret addiction to glitter. He has been glitter-free since last Wednesday.

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