Friday, June 13, 2014

Some Fun and Disastrous Literary Readings that I've Done

Last night's Publication Party at the Writers' Program, UCLA Extension, went very well. There were 18 readers, and each was given 5 minutes, which doesn't seem long, but in fact with 18 readers, the program ended up  around 1 1/2 hours long -- the limit of the audience.  The participants were instructors at the Writers program, professionals who understood what literary readings are about.  In other words, they knew how to excerpt their work so as to present something lively and cohesive. I enjoyed last night's reading in particular. We had fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; the evening flew. I must say that the teachers at the Writers' Program are really very talented -- as writers, readers, and teachers. UCLA's Writers Program is one of the finest in this country. And before I forget, the staff did an excellent job with preparations as always - thanks to Linda Venis and the staff once again.

I thought I would talk a bit about literary readings, dear Readers.

Writers are asked to do readings now and then, and one of the first I did was for PEN USA West in which Linda Venis, Director of the Writers' Program spotted me and invited me to start teaching. The reading was in some wealthy member's house and the readers performed from a balcony overlooking a fabulous garden (think Romeo and Juliet!), and everything was lovely and perfect. A couple of days after the reading, I was surprised to hear from Linda. Even though I never took an education class in my life, I started teaching, and have been doing so for over two decades.

I've been invited to do readings in universities and schools and bookstores.

One of the most enjoyable reading I did was at the Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France, which was arranged thankfully by Bonnie Melvin, a Filipina writer who lives in Paris. My husband and I were on holiday and just had two nights in Paris. I read the night we arrived. It was Friday night, if I recall right, and the place was packed. For some reason, my reading became some kind of important Friday night entertainment in that part of Paris, and the place had so many people the bookstore requested me to do two readings that night to allow their audience the chance to hear me. It was great fun to perform in front of such an enthusiastic crowd, and with the Notre Dame in my view.

I did talks and readings for the USIS as well, in Cebu, Manila, Baguio, and Zamboanga, and they packed those auditoriums with many enthusiastic people, some of them teachers who traveled 8 hours just to be there. I found that very touching when I talked to some of them who suffered the interminable bus trip to hear me.

There were many other enjoyable readings, but let me share some disastrous ones.

First, there was the in Los Angeles, where 8 of us read, and I came right after a writer/actress who delivered a full 8-minute theatrical production. She had memorized her piece and she was so funny and the audience was virtually rolling down in laughter. I followed with an excerpt that was about death, and my audience slipped away with my first line. That reading was very sad for me, and I remembered thinking that whoever did the programming did a lousy job. The actress should have been the high point of the program because she was going to be a hard act to follow.

In a couple of other readings, perhaps after the reading with the actress, I tried to control the environment to my advantage. For instance, I did a reading with some other writers at the University of Santa Barbara, and right behind the "stage" was a picture window, with trees and blue sky and light, basically distracting the audience. I asked the person in charge to draw the drapes, switch on the lights. The setting of the reading improved dramatically, and the audience now focused on the readers.

On another occasion, I did a reading at UCLA in a huge auditorium that was not full at all. I asked the person in charge to dim the room and put just one spotlight on the reader. That worked because the audience did not have to look at the empty seats but focused on the readers.

Bookstore readings are intended to sell books (for the bookstore), and it's always a crap shoot as to how large your audience is. Sometimes only 6 people show up.  In the beginning I used to get upset by such poor turnout, but a writer friend sat me down and said, "Cecilia, even if one person attends, that person went out of their way to drive to the bookstore to spend that time to listen to you. You owe that person your best."

 I thought about this and realized she was right. Since then, I have always done my best, no matter the size of the audience and dire the circumstances.  In this regard, I have been surprised that several times in the midst of that small audience were professors who went on to use my book in their classrooms.

I have more stories about literary readings, but I'll close for now. Have a great weekend!

Salman Rushdie to my right
Read also:
Creative Writing: The Importance of Sensual Writing
Explosion and Drawing as Writing Exercises
The Old Mansion Near the Plaza

Tags: literature, literary, readings, performance, books, authors, writers

This is all for now,

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