Reading #3 – AWP conference, Chicago

Blackie’s, an old Chicago saloon, lots of wood and noise. A private room off to the side, with a long bar and a table with cheese, bruschetta, and meatballs in a scary-looking red sauce. A podium with a microphone masking-taped to a mic stand. Six readers in all, two published by White Wine Press, two by New Rivers Press, and two representing the Fairfield U. MFA program–Nalini Jones and myself. We’ve all been asked to read for five minutes each. How to choose three pages from a 230 page novel? I start at the beginning, cutting and pasting, and finish in five minutes flat. I don’t feel nervous, having done my conference panel earlier that day, which was my main source of anxiety. Still, I find myself reading in a strange monotone. Maybe it’s because I’m tired. But it seems to go okay. Nalini goes next and reads briefly, her usual professional self. Next is a novelist from New Rivers. She has decided to read form the middle of her novel, and so delivers a “set-up,” which lasts five minutes on its own. (I’m not using a stopwatch, or minding the clock–but I can tell what five minutes feels like.) She goes on to read a section that lasts several more minutes, then provides another minute or so of set-up for yet another section of her book. Then she reads another section. I’m not paying attention to the work. I’m pissed off that she’s monopolizing so much time. Does she realize she’s taking so long? Did she bother to practice? Did she decide, “Screw it, I’m gonna read for fifteen minutes”? Or is she just clueless? I don’t know which is worse. It’s a question I often ask: how can people be so unaware? I leave after the clueless woman, partly because I want to see Margaret Atwood’s keynote address, but also because I’m so annoyed. Anyway, people seemed to enjoy my reading, which is the important thing.  I wish now I’d pushed the book. I should have had flyers or something. I’m so clueless about this stuff!

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