‘It Had Wings’ by Allan Gurganus

Perhaps the theme of this list is teaching – I have taught for more than thirty years now, and before that I was taught. Before I headed to graduate school, I read the work of those who might teach me my first semester, and I still remember standing in the periodical room of the public library where I worked, reading ‘It Had Wings’ in the Readings section of Harper’s Magazine, feeling lit on fire. The story is short – perhaps it’s the shortest story I’ve chosen – and is about a woman who finds what she presumes is an angel in her backyard. Like all of Gurganus’s work it’s full of the numinous and the charge of sex. Maybe he doesn’t distinguish between the two. It begins, “Find a little yellow side street house. Put an older woman in it.” Those imperatives! I already knew I’d do anything he told me to. 

First published in The Paris Review, Winter 1985, and available to subscribers to read here; collected in White People, Knopf, 1991. Also available to subscribers to read online in Harper’s Magazine here