Jennifer Margulis predicted we might have a big crowd, but I didn’t believe her. After all, how many of these bookstore things have I done where it turns out to be just me, standing next to a tower of destined-to-be-returned-to-the-warehouse books, and one old guy who thought he was sitting in the café? But she was right: nearly 70 people showed up for the reading.
I was glad that I’d thought ahead when I was in Seattle and had prepared some remarks. Usually I do these things on the fly, talk about whatever springs to mind, or say the same intro I said at the last thing I did, but with so many people there, it seemed more formal. Plus there was a podium and a microphone. So prepared remarks seemed necessary. I was relieved I had some ready.
Before I got to that part, though, I got to meet in person a ton of people I email with, sometimes daily, but never actually see in real life: Literary Mama editors, my editor and publicist at Seal, writer friends like Barbara and Susan Ito and Gayle Brandeis and friends from Readerville. It was like a family reunion, except we’d never actually uned in the first place. Some people were exactly how I expected them to be; others couldn’t have been more different. All of them were a thrill to meet outside the matrix of the Internet.
Once all the meeting and greeting was over, the 11 readers and I settled in to the reading space at the front of the crowd. With so many people there to read from Literary Mama and It’s a Boy, I decided to confine my speaking to the short background info I’d prepared and the introductions of the writers. I did that, and then we got right into the readings.
Literary Mama columnist Jennifer Eyre White kicked things off with Analyzing Ben, a piece about the differences between her son and her daughter. She had the forethought to bring a visual aid with her — a big chart replicating the table in her essay that list the behaviors shared by her kids – and it was really great. Her piece got a ton of laughs, and really got the reading off to a great start. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of her reading from her chart, as it didn’t hit me until after that point that since I wasn’t reading myself, I was free to document everything photographically from the sidelines.
Literary Mama Profiles editor Joanne Hartman was up next with an excerpt from Evolution of a Muse, an essay that ran in our Literary Reflections department. It’s a great piece, made all the more poignant by the presence in the audience of Joanne’s muse herself – her daughter. Reviews editor Rebecca Kaminsky read a section of Down Will Come Baby, an essay based on her column of the same name, and then Columns editor Rachel Sarah read Coming, a piece from her Literary Mama column Single Mom Seeking. This piece also got a lot of laughs – the best moment was when Rachel read from the part in the piece where she’s frustrated by her date’s lack of sexual staying power. When she said, “He told me that no other women had ever complained about being dissatisfied,” all the women in the audience laughed, while all the men crossed their arms and looked grumpy and uncomfortable.
Barbara Atkinson, Literary Mama’s assistant editor for creative nonfiction, followed with a tantalizingly brief excerpt from Camping, a short fiction piece, and then creative nonfiction editor Jennifer Margulis spoke about her piece in It’s a Boy and her new book, Why Babies Do That. Cathleen Daly read her poem Mama’s Orange Robe, originally published in our Mother’s Day issue last spring, and then Susan Ito read an excerpt from her heartbreaking piece “Samuel” from It’s a Boy. It was a joy to hear her read, and a revelation, too – her essay is so wrenching, so personal and raw, that until I’d heard the ending read aloud, I hadn’t fully realized how sweet and funny and tender it was. I’d been focused on the story of loss, and not as drawn in to the equally powerful story of how loss eventually heals. Hearing her read the ending, where she muses about who her son would be if he were alive today, jokes with herself about her maternal pride and expectations, cast a whole different light on the essay, which always seemed to me to be at the heart of the book, but for different reasons.
Reviews editor Sybil Lockhart was up next with an excerpt from Grey, a creative nonfiction piece about coping with her mother’s mortality and failing mental health. This piece was not only one of the first ones we published on the site, but one of the original essays from the “writing about motherhood” group that was started by Amy Hudock back in 2002/2003 – the group that eventually morphed into Literary Mama. Then Fiction editor Ericka Lutz read from her nonfiction essay Why My Garden, a powerful meditation on personal history and place.
The evening wrapped up with the wonderful Gayle Brandeis reading her short fiction piece Eyes in the Back of Her Head. This was another piece that was a revelation to hear read aloud. It was another one that was published in the early days of Literary Mama, and I remembered it as being powerful, but hearing it spoken out loud, it was a whole other story. It was an incredible way to end the night, hearing this fable about a mother who never truly “saw” her children, and the stories the children told themselves to explain her indifference.
But the night didn’t end there – after mingling for a bit with friends and audience members, we went across the street for a small after-party that turned out to be a raucous tiki lounge. We sat and shouted to each other over cocktails and stayed up far later than is a good idea for people with young children who don’t yet get that whole sleeping all the way through the night without waking up thing (or people who are jet-lagged and up way past their bedtime). But it was wonderful. A great night, and great company, and a fabulous event overall.