With book publication comes book promotion. In the last ten days, I’ve given two readings, one in Chicago at DePaul University, and one in my current hometown, Columbia, Missouri, at Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices/Seeing Visions series.
I gave my first public reading when I was in graduate school, probably in 2004. This was in a small room at the Millennium Student Center as part of some kind of “Attend UMSL!” promotion. Or maybe it was for something else. Anyway, I read a flash fiction piece, my voice cracked, sweat poured down my arms, and I was grateful that it was over. Since then, I’ve maybe given a reading a year—for graduation from my MFA program, on stage with ten other readers at a public pavilion where I read dead last and it was so dark by the time I was up I literally couldn’t see anyone in the front row, with the poet Richard Newman at Chesterfield Arts in suburban St. Louis, at Dressel’s Pub along with five other readers, Get Lost Bookshop here in sunny Columbia—and, yes, actually, that might be it.
Not a lot of practice. And certainly not with a book in hand, which, I was warned (thankfully) is much harder: can’ t let that sucker snap shut on your fingers, the print is probably smaller than you’re used to, the spacing on the page is smaller, all things that I needed to keep in mind.
Chicago: I had to be in the Windy City for work anyway, the writer Amina Gauter invited me to read at DePaul University in a reading pitched as “Writers as Editors, Editors as Writers.” I read with Phong Nguyen, who runs the wonderful journal Pleiades. We were in one of the multipurpose rooms; windows to the right, good soundsystem with a mic (though both Phong and I used our “professor” voices and skipped the tech help), sandwiches and snacks (nomomomom…), plenty of rows of chairs, and a terrific crowd of about forty people, mostly made up of DePaul students and faculty.
Prior to the reading, Phong and I talked about reading preparation I said I was nervous; he said he never became nervous before a reading. We both had our “reading copy,” a version of our book that was dogeared and marked up, the passages and words, sometimes whole paragraphs, we didn’t need crossed out. I waffled on what to read: an excerpt or an entire story. Amina insisted I had time to read a whole story. Phong read first, and was phenomenal. I read second and was shaky: mispronounced words, a tendency to trip off my words, dry-mouthed (I forgot my water!).
After, we took questions about journal editing. I rambled, bounced from subject to subject, often forgetting what the question was, unable to come back to earth. Phong was a pro, answering questions with precision like Roger Federer chewing up an unranked opponent. Lesson learned: clear mind, clear reading. Also, sandwiches are good. I ate two of ’em.
Columbia: A bonus of this reading is that I had been to the venue many times before—Orr Street is a reading series unaffiliated with an university, and I’ve heard a range of terrific readers there before. It’s intimate and cozy, with wonderful artwork on the surrounding walls. In Chicago, I didn’t bring my own books. This time? Sho’nuff! I also brought beer koozies with my book cover on ’em (yes, yes I did), slapped a couple of PBRs in ’em, set up my Mr. T figurine (yes, yes I did), and plugged in my Square thingamajig into my phone to hock some books. About as different from Chicago as it could be.
Once again, I read second, following Peter Gardner, an emeritus professor of anthropology And like last time, I was unsure what to read. Because my friend Alison was there, and she had the same affinity as I do for him, I read my story “Sparring Vladimir Putin.” I only had time to read the second half, which was okay with me, and while no one every comes up to you and says “Your reading blew goats” I got the feeling that people that were there did dig it. Still, some mistakes, some mispronunciations, tripped over words, etc. I’ll get the hang of it.
What mattered was that some of my close friends and favorite people (like this poet and this poet) were in attendance. That I had blast. That there were beer koozies! Hopeful my next reading, which is in my hometown, Cincinnati, at this joint, will be just as much fun.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye