Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Importance of a Reading

Published writers are often asked to read at events, book launches, and in other public places, attracting large audiences who walk away with opinions and books. April 28th, 2010 was the opening reception and readings for the Yukon Writer's Festival in Whitehorse, YT. The Yukon Writer's Festival was called the Young Authors Conference when I attended high school at F.H. Collins Secondary School. Each year at this time, for one week, a number of authors work with students in the high schools who want to try their hand at writing. The authors mentor the students and teach them different writing techniques.

During the reception, the readings of a number of the authors caught my minds eye, but I resisted the urge to buy books in the moment; savoring the memory for the distant future, 2 months later, when I would walk into the local bookstore, Mac's Fireweed. Recognizing the name in the Canadian authors section, I picked up the book, "February," by Lisa Moore and instantly remembered her reading. I bought the book and with it broke my reading fast. I read most of that book aloud. It made me laugh and cry, forcing me to pause many times in the last two chapters to wipe my eyes. It was beautiful, it was heartbreaking, it was happy/sad in the perfect way. And it is a concrete example of what I have always dreamed of accomplishing in my own writing.

One can learn a lot through hearing ones own words read aloud. A sentence may read fine to the minds eye and be choppy when spoken and I've learned sound is just as important in prose as in poetry. I know some writers read their work aloud in the safe confines of their studio and I have tried that - in truth it makes me feel a bit silly; especially when one of my children walks in and finds me pacing and talking to myself. But, nevertheless I also find it helpful to gauge the reaction of an audience and that, in my opinion, is what makes open mic opportunities so important for emerging writers, singers and storytellers.

A year ago I made Lauren Tuck, who was then organizing the local open mid event Brave New Words, a deal. For four months I would commit to having something to read out. This gave me a deadline and forced me to get up in front of people and read my work aloud. By the time the  fourth month came around I was beginning to spend less energy focusing on deciphering the type written words I was attempting to read off my shaking piece of paper and started noticing the audiences attention span.

In honor of the last Brave New Words of the season, last night, I made myself pick something to read. It has been 6 months since I have read at this event, being too busy with my own projects. The piece I chose was a new one which, despite it's rawness from the forge, seems to have something. And I think, with those scant 262 words I've accomplished my first breakthrough into where I want to go with my work and am still, with the help of a friend, figuring out how I did it. The words flow with graceful rhythm and dramatic pauses in sentence structure, but there's glimmer of life, of something more than's "on the page," an emotional reaction transferred from the paper to my eye as I listen.

Although I'm not sure what the audience felt, the applause was great and I was pleased to find an abeyance in my previous nervousness. Instead, I began by telling the story of how the piece came to be and found the necessity of actually reading it's printed form, as opposed to being able to just tell it, an annoying distraction as I excitedly tried to focus on watching the reactions of those spellbound.

Note: The photograph above shows the sidewalk outside Baked CafĂ© where Brave New Words is held once a month between September and June. 

Also, thanks to Caitlin Smith for organizing Brave New Words this year. I look forward to seeing what happens with this event next fall.

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