It’s easy to predict how successful an event will be when you first walk in the front door of the venue. Walking in the front door of the Coffee News Cafe, there was already a bit of a crowd and I was quickly swept up into the arms of a former intern for a big hug. People were excited.
I found out about InDigest‘s reading while stalking the upcoming events in some of my writer friends’ facebooks. I’d never heard of the magazine, nor had I seen any notifications anywhere about the event, so I was more than a little surprised how packed the medium-sized coffeeshop got. The event was to celebrate 1 year of InDigest’s existence, and to launch a series of monthly readings in NYC, at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street. Apparently, the magazine began behind the Coffee News’ counter.
Bookended by the enchanting musical stylings of Crack in the Damn, the reading featured three writers, Lech Harris, Meggie Elder, and Peter Bognanni.
Lech started off the reading with “Dozetown”, a short story about the Jonestown Massacre and the events leading up to it. It’s unclear how much of the story was truth and how much was fiction, but the telling is clever. Told in the style of a government report, “Dozetown” is told in a series of 80 items, ranging from sentence fragment facts to paragraph narratives of events that took place before the massacre. The piece is occasionally funny, occasionally haunting. Harris read with wonderful characterization, though the piece was probably too long to keep the attention of the audience without ever engaging in eye contact. Here are a few clips from the reading.
The piece was amazing, and probably gained something in performance; the short facts gain poignance or humor, and the piece (which you can find in InDigest’s first issue became more whole as a short story. This was most definitely the longest uninterrupted piece I’ve heard performed live, and I’m curious to see in the future, how writers keep the audience engaged, and whether there is an unwritten rule about how long a piece the writer generally reads.
The second reader was Meggie Elder, a poet who has been published in two of InDigest’s issues, and whose nervousness was not only stated multiple times, but also palpable. Luckily, Elder’s nervousness was charming, though it did detract noticeably from what was lovely, nuanced writing. As someone who also struggles with nerves when performing, this illuminated for me, just how important it is to conquer that, in order for one’s audience not to spend the whole perfomance focused more on one’s stutter and shake than one’s words.
The third and final reader may be the first in a long line* of successful former classmates of mine I encounter while working on this blog, and I have to admit my delight to reacquaint myself with them, to see what they have done with the talent they already had when we were students together. (*I’ve already heard of other classmates who are doing exciting and creative things, maybe someday I’ll be one of them.)
Peter Bognanni rounded out the evening’s readings with an excerpt from his forthcoming novel The House of Tomorrow. At first I was a little offput by what seemed like novel about untoward teens, or an untoward teen novel- simply written, the two main characters had ridiculous concepts: a boy who was homeschooled in a home known as the House of Tomorrow and a boy with a heart problem who either hated you or wanted you in his band. However strange the concept is, Bognanni makes it work in lovely and subtle ways, and while the characters are quirky, the emotions and events are universal and touching. (Again with the not-enough-memory for my camera issue, the clip is short.)
InDigest packed in quite the crowd, which I failed to document for fear of implicating Coffee News in a breach of occupancy limit. The event was excellent, the writing was definitely fresh and interesting. I wanted eye contact with the audience from any of the writers, a little more thought as to the fact that an audience at a reading is not quite the same as an audience of one, reading your words silently. I think this is going to be a theme in the readings I attend. The emotion, intonation, and thought that you do not put into your reading, detracts from your words rather than just leaving them unmarked, as they would on page.
Overall, the event was a wild success- a packed crowd, amazing artistic works, charm, and warmth. Too bad we don’t get to keep editors Dustin Luke Nelson and David Luke Doody in Minnesota. We can hope others take a page from their playbook, and also seek to promote fresh voices.
This week’s extra special video is an excerpt of a song by musician Paul Engels, who sounds sometimes like a softened Bob Dylan, sometimes like a roughed up Thom Yorke. I loved his lyrics and his tones, and hope you do, too.