L.A. Times May Book Club:  “Letter to a Stranger”

L.A. Times May Book Club: “Letter to a Stranger”

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L.A. Times May Book Club: “Letter to a Stranger” with Pico Iyer, Maggie Shipstead, Michelle Tea and Colleen Kinder

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On May 26 authors Pico Iyer, Maggie Shipstead and Michelle Tea and editor Colleen Kinder will join book club readers to discuss “Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us” with Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds.

“Letter to a Stranger” is a new collection of travel stories that guides readers across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection. Iyer, Shipstead and Tea are among 65 writers who contributed essays about unforgettable encounters that altered their lives in unexpected ways.

In editing the book, Kinder organized the collection around such themes as Gratitude, Wonder, Chemistry, Remorse and Farewell. She says the experience taught her that “nagging ghosts make for glorious muses.”

“Yes, our families and institutions raise us, grow us up,” Kinder writes in the introduction, “but so does serendipity, the cast of characters who are randomly assembled in our path."

Iyer writes his letter “To My Lost Trishaw Driver” in Mandalay, Myanmar. Shipstead reaches out “To the Woman We Met Before the Flood” in Pai, Thailand. Tea writes “To the Girl in the Tattoo Parlor” in Dallas, Texas.

Other essays recount brushes with a first responder after a storm, a gambler encountered on jury duty, a waiter in Istanbul, a taxi driver in Paris, a roomful of travelers watching reality TV in La Paz, a traveling magician in Nicaragua.

Colleen Kinder is the cofounder of Off Assignment, a nonprofit reading series that grew into an online magazine, and started “Letter to a Stranger” as a regular column. She teaches at the Yale Summer Session in France and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Wall Street Journal,, AFAR, and “Best American Travel Writing 2013.”

Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, translated into 23 languages, including, in 2019, two twinned books on his adopted home, “Autumn Light” and “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan.” For more than a quarter-century, he’s been a constant contributor to Time. He has also written for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, Granta, and more than 250 other periodicals worldwide. He divides his time between Santa Barbara and Japan.

Maggie Shipstead is the author of “Great Circle,” “Astonish Me,” and “Seating Arrangements,” which won the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Condé Nast Traveler, Outside, “The Best American Short Stories,” and “The Best American Sports Writing.” She lives in Los Angeles. Michelle Tea's collection of essays, “Against Memoir,” is the recipient of the 2019 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. She is the author of more than a dozen books in various genres, including “Valencia,” which won a Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, and most recently, the “Astro Baby” children's astrology series. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s, Cosmopolitan, The Believer, Marie Clare, n+1, Buzzfeed and other publications. She lives in Los Angeles.

Christopher Reynolds has written about travel, the outdoors, arts and culture for the Los Angeles Times since 1990. Since 2015, he has kayaked in Canada; surfed in San Diego; snorkeled in American Samoa; floated in Xochimilco; climbed the hills of Dingle; swallowed twitching seafood in Seoul; and found his family in the ledger book at Ellis Island. He is the guest interview for our May book club.

When: May 26 at 6 p.m. PT.

Where: This free virtual event will live stream on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Watch links will be provided the week of the event.

Get the book: As a special offer for book club readers, a limited number of copies of "Letter to a Stranger" with signed bookplates featuring all four contributors are available from our bookselling partner, Chevalier's Books.

Q&A: What would you like to ask the authors? Share your comments and questions for Pico Iyer, Maggie Shipstead, Michelle Tea, Colleen Kinder and Christopher Reynolds in advance of book club night in an email to

If you enjoy community book discussions: During the pandemic The Times has offered many live events free and virtual to make it easy for readers to participate from home. Now we need your help to keep going and growing through the new Times Community Fund. Learn more: How to support the L.A. Times Book Club and Book Prizes.

Join the book club: Sign up for the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter for updates and the latest news.

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