Three Stories Inspired by Sylvia Fein Paintings

In honor of “Midwest Surrealist” Sylvia Fein’s 100th birthday, the Berkeley Art Museum put on an exhibition of Fein’s work, exploring such characteristic themes and motifs as water, trees, eyes, cats, and the cosmos.

Three Bay Area writers, Ron Nyren, Maw Shein Win, and Sarah Stone wrote 100-word stories inspired by Fein’s fantastical imagery. And Evan Karp scored each of their readings to his own musical interpretations of the stories and the paintings.

After “The Painting Told Me What to Do”

Four columns of fire burn in a green landscape, haloed by white emptiness against a sky of black smoke branching down. Slim naked trunks dance inside flames, spindly branch heads peering out to ask, why aren’t you on fire, too? Perhaps tree is only another word for fire, a fire so slow it fools our eyes. Or else why do they look so spry? They reached upward for so many years, each year a careful ring, and now they leap. The flames say, we’re coming for you next, to toss you as high as you said you wanted to go.


Ron Nyren’s novel The Book of Lost Light won Black Lawrence Press’s 2019 Big Moose Prize and is forthcoming in 2020. His fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, The North American Review, Glimmer Train Stories, Mississippi Review, and 100 Word Story, among others, and his stories have been shortlisted for the O. Henry Awards and the Pushcart Prize. A former Stegner Fellow, he is an instructor in fiction writing for Stanford Continuing Studies. More at



After “Kite Eye (or Eye Kite)”

You look up at the sky. Ask questions. You see one eye. Or perhaps a kite. Take your time. Must make a decision. You have one minute. Time almost up. Adrift on a rowboat. Lose at Uncle. An icecap melts. A spouse betrays. Buzzer goes off. The sun beams. You crack an egg. A hummingbird cries. You marry an olive tree. Brightness arrives. Memorize adverbs of frequency. Fly a kite. Look to the left. Taste of lingonberry. Swallow it whole. Painted frames. Forget the answers. You ask for a horse. Cat vision. Lime trees. Gold artichokes. Vintage teeth. Eye kite.


Maw Shein Win‘s poetry chapbooks include Ruins of a glittering palace (SPA/Commonwealth Projects) and Score and Bone (Nomadic Press). Invisible Gifts: Poems was published by Manic D Press in 2018. She was a 2019 Visiting Scholar in the Department of English at UC Berkeley. Win is the first poet laureate of El Cerrito, California (2016 – 2018), and her poetry collection Storage Unit for the Spirit House will be published by Omnidawn in Fall 2020. More at



Painting by Sylvia Fein

After “Musical Sky Eyes”

In her sky, where there’s nothing to ask for, the great eyes rest by moving. Green flares across green, shower of bright planets. Red irises: seeing equals fire. Hello, time outside time! Pull up a chair.

Dark air caverns of the past, lightning. (I am afraid of the past.) Wild green winds ahead. The sky also sea. Carbon-swallowing moss in the cities. Shabbat evening, hora.

The painter at a hundred, inventive and inexplicable, spills out a new harmony. Open your eyes, children. We don’t yet know the surprises that may save us. (I am no longer afraid of the future.)


Sarah Stone is the author or co-author of three books, including her newest novel, Hungry Ghost Theater, a finalist for the 38th Annual Northern California Book Awards. She has written for and taught on Korean television, reported on human rights in Burundi, and looked after orphan chimpanzees at the Jane Goodall Institute. She currently teaches for Stanford Continuing Studies and is a 2020 LABA East Bay Fellow. More at


Listen to the full album:

Evan Karp is the founding director of Quiet Lightning and Litseen and the events manager for Booksmith, the Bindery, and Berkeley Arts & Letters. He’s written literary columns for the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, SF Weekly, SF/Arts, and The Rumpus, and his nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Guardian UK, BOMBlog, Eleven Eleven, Omniverse, Vertebrae, and a fading constellation of other places. He’s in two duos, both of which combine music, words, and other sounds: Turk & Divis, with his brother Miles, and Vata & the Vine, with Maw Shein Win.

Images courtesy of BAMPFA.

One Response to “Three Stories Inspired by Sylvia Fein Paintings”

  1. Peggy says:

    Maw and Evan, love “eye kite”!

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