Reading #4 – KGB Bar, New York City

The KGB Bar is a literary hangout in the East Village, a small, dimly lit bar with blood-red walls where writers both well-known & unknown are invited to share their work while standing at an oddly formal podium jammed into the corner beside the bar. After trying for weeks (months?) to land a reading gig there on my own, my publisher stepped in &, through a contact, arranged for me to read at their regular “Fizz” night, along with 3 other readers. It was great to be able to tell people I was reading at KGB & to get that reaction: “Ooh, that’s a very cool place!” I’d been to KGB when I still lived in the city, so I knew the venue, but it had been many years. Walking the streets of the East Village on an anxiously warm March evening–past the old landmarks (tenement apartment buildings, dingy restaurants, hole-in-the-wall boutiques) and the sparkly new architecture near Cooper Union & Astor Place–I felt both old & young. Old because I am old, especially compared to the hip young kids walking the streets around me; young because the city quickens the blood, sharpens the senses.

The bar was packed for the reading, which sounds great until you realize how few people it takes to pack KGB Bar. Still, the room has a great, friendly vibe, & I’m excited to read here. I’m up second, after Sally McElwaine, an old friend from our Writers Studio days. Sally read a funny story set in 1977, when the city was on the edge of financial collapse, & it freaked me out a little that 1977 is now 35 years away. It’s great to see Sally after many years, & to see some of our mutual friends from the old days.

I have 15 minutes to read. It can be difficult to choose the 8 or so pages to read. I don’t like to read the same scenes that I’ve read before, but have chosen to read a brief section from the opening scene, which people seem to like, & which has an energy that works well for readings. I then skip to a scene well into the novel, a section I have not read from before, & which gives an indication of how dark the book is, & also foregrounds the mystery of the carry-on bag. It seems to work.

Stephanie Dickinson & Rob Cook,publishers of Rain Mountain Press, are there with books to sell. Eight copies are bought, which makes them happy. Me too, though I wish some strangers had bought the book rather than just my friends. I can never tell if people are buying books simply out of loyalty, which is not a question when a stranger puts down his or her money for a copy.

The whole thing is over very fast. People mill about, many pass by & tell me they liked what I read. One of the other readers, Timothy Gager, who read a funny section of a novel about a therapist, invites me to read at a reading series he curates in Cambridge, Mass. We eventually slate the reading for September. It’ll be great to read somewhere new & foreign, & I really look forward to it.

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