BART Station Short Story Dispensers Now Taking Submissions

Balboa Park BART Station's short story dispenser is ready to help young writers get on track.

Short story dispenser
Balboa Park BART Station is one of five stations in the system with a short story dispenser. | Ingleside Light

Balboa Park BART Station may not have a coffee cart, but it has something few stations do: a short story dispenser. And starting next month, the Bay Area’s young writers will have a chance to have their works shared through the nifty contraption.

BART will once again host a writing contest for 300 youth to submit their work to be distributed through its touchless Short Story Dispensers. Nonprofit organizations 826 Valencia and Youth Speaks will select 30 finalists who will each be given a $75 honorarium.

Besides Balboa Park Station, Downtown Berkeley, Fruitvale, Pleasant Hill and San Leandro stations host dispensers.

“We're just trying to find ways to surprise and delight people and, you know, everyone's on their phone on the train and it's just nice to get a free story while you're waiting,” said Michelle Robertson, a spokesperson for the project.

The short story dispensers come from Short Édition, a French publishing house of short literature. Each produces receipt-like pieces of paper in 1 minute, 3 minute long and 5 minute lengths that denote story read time.

“We're trying to come up with lots of ways to get people, especially youth, really excited about transit and to kind of think about it differently and think about the role it plays in their lives,” Robertson said.

Stories held up in a group of three.
Receipt-like short stories are available for free from the short story dispenser at Balboa Park BART Station. | Anne Marie Kristoff/Ingleside Light

The dispensers were originally launched in Balboa Park, Richmond, Pleasant Hill and Fruitvale stations in 2021 to help promote riders to look up from their screens and encourage reading. One year later BART launched their first writing contest for adults to submit short stories based on the theme “Motion” where finalists were published in the kiosks.

Robertson said that since 2021 the machines have dispensed over 37,000 short stories. In the past year, the dispenser at Downtown Berkeley has dispensed the most stories followed by Fruitvale. The most popular are the 5-minute long stories, which are from the BART contest winners.

BART Lines theme this year is “The Bay is Home” and participants are asked to write about locations, places or people in the Bay Area that feel like home to them. Poems must not exceed 7,500 characters, including spaces and each line should not exceed 115 characters.

“BART’s like the great connector of the Bay Area and I think poetry has a similar effect,” Robertson said. “It's just a nice tie-in to BART and what we do, while also letting people kind of run with it and let their imagination soar.”

The BART Lines contest opens on Feb. 9 and run until March 8 at 11:59 p.m. Finalists will be announced in April.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Ingleside Light.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.