The artist shares 7 short story collections, and the poetic fragments they inspired

For Kaya Wilkins, songs are short stories, and short stories are at the zenith of intimacy. “How is it possible to have read only a few paragraphs and now be in somebody else’s central nervous system entirely?” she asks, musing on the ferocity of the form.

She’s fixated on world-building, and her forthcoming album, SAP, is a manifestation of one of her imagined realities. It was conceived from a series of peculiar questions: What if you’re tree-juice? How far along the stem do you have to ride before you get away from your parents and realize you’re the tear of this person and the blood of this person? Under the moniker Okay Kaya, Wilkins uses each of the album’s tracks to build out the supposed consciousness of a tree’s sticky secretion. Through her abstracted projections of consciousness onto the natural world, distinctly human themes emerge. Each song is its own story, driving a new perspective to further shape the project as a whole into a full-bodied reality.

It was through short stories that she learned to transform “sometimes mundane epiphanies” into all-consuming narratives. Its brevity, like that of a song, uplifts the importance of each detail; passing thoughts become character-defining, and incidental settings become landmarks. Ahead of SAP’s November 4 release, Wilkins shares seven short story collections, and the ruminations and fractured thoughts that emerged from them.

Like Life by Lorrie Moore
“The small joys, life’s a bit and then you die, commit, cry—make fun of. Somehow [you] believe in love, in loneliness, at the same time.”

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
“I got to interview Carmen Maria Machado about this book of shorts back in 2017 for So It Goes magazine. She said this about her story, ‘Eight Bites’: ‘It’s obvious to me that women don’t have a lot of agency over their bodies or their minds right now. People will take that away from them constantly, and don’t believe them. There’s this constant taking away, if that makes sense. I wanted to write a story where a woman does that to herself, which is key. I think internalized misogyny is a thing we don’t talk about enough, because it is toxic and powerful.’”

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
“My favorite lyrics are from a band that only exists in the story, ‘I Kiss a Door’: ‘He looks like a door / He tastes like a door / And when I kiss him / I kiss a door.’”

Citizen by Claudia Rankine
“The ache of the weight of our world unjust, the clashes in relation to ‘the other’ sharing America… Language as a racist vessel, language unsolicited, words shared and overheard until they break both heart and spirit.

Rankine’s words are a vessel for emotional understanding—vexing out the pain. ‘You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints,’ she writes. ‘It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.’”

The Listener by Tove Jansson
“In a story about friendship, the narrator tries their hardest to explain what makes their friend Lucio special. Lucio says things like: ‘Have you thought of how it starts to grow again every spring? New leaves from the exact same place as before.’ His smile is radiant, laugh is full. Lucio doesn’t like gossip or to speak of the mundane, his house is chestnut colored. He is not naïve—he is easily astonished.”

The Kiss and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
“A kiss in the dark so fragrant one cannot help but daydream, create a Frankenstein of various women’s limbs, hair, dresses—fall in love with a fantasy abysmal outside of one’s own head. Thom [Yorke] would sing, ‘You do it to yourself, you do / And that’s why it really hurts.’”

The Distance of the Moon by Italo Calvino
“‘To explode or to implode—said Qfwfq—that is the question.’ Jump up on the ever-so-close moon to gather cheese from the debris of the earth. Get stuck on there with the one you love, come to the realization that love and desire have no place on a solitary, waning, mono-colored sphere.”