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Introductions at Readings

At the risk of further coming across as a cantankerous crank, here is one of my pet peeves.

Readings are usually more hit than miss, and one of the things that make me feel this way about them are introductions of writers. Usually, they amount to little more than a portrait of a wall covered with calligraphied pedigrees, an inventory of said writer’s awards and prizes, as if reciting the contents of a trophy case; a package, in other words, of useless information, useless not because these things don’t matter—they can be substantial, admirable, and inspiring accomplishments—but because they give no real indication about who they are as writers, or rather, and perhaps more importantly, what their writing is like.

For some reason, these rote, paint-by-numbers introductions occur most often at readings by fiction writers, less so, at least in my experience, in readings by poetry writers (that last description alludes to another of my pet peeves). Case in point, last night I attended a night of readings by writers, and each of the introductions were excellent, providing brief analyses of each of the writer’s work. A refreshing departure, I’d say.

Am I alone here?

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

5 thoughts on “Introductions at Readings

  1. Awesome. I have a reading Saturday at Quimby’s here in Chicago, with some of my label mates, any suggestions on how to make it more compelling, the introductions? You say a brief analysis is more interesting, talking about what they write, the style, whatever power they bring to their work and words? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Richard.

      As for other suggestions, I think that almost anything besides mentioning what school the writer graduated from or where they teach, or where there work has been published, or any of the typical things that get mentioned on a typical contributors page would stick out as something interesting. Direct engagement with the work is usually the most compelling for me, particularly if the commentary is precise, succinct, and insightful. Personal anecdotes can also be a good lead in to hearing work from the writer talked about in the anecdote. Humor certainly helps, too, if it’s something that comes naturally to you.

      Besides perfunctory introductions at readings, another thing that bugs me is that nothing usually happens after the writers read. How about having the writers engage each other, that dialogue led by a practiced moderator?

      1. I like that. Seems obvious, but any sort of personal response to the book being read from, or the author and his or her style, would be way more interesting. Humor for sure.

        I think we’ll have a Q&A after, but I like the idea of an informal panel of sorts. We’re all on the same label, all with books out in 2010, we should be able to talk about a lot of things.

        Also, what’s the best stuff to read, in your opinion (or anyone’s opinion here)? Or what to avoid? I always feel like humor and sex go over well, but not sure how to best to dark fiction. Hell, I was at Blake’s reading from Scorch Atlas here in Chicago, and it was dark as hell, so, maybe just get the reading down?

        1. Yes, humor and sex is what people tend to say goes over best. But for me the subject is less important than great content and expert delivery. When I go to see a film I don’t choose between comedy or romance or whatever. I just want to see a thing of beauty, carefully, masterfully rendered. In the same way, at a reading I want to hear a thing of beauty (and that thing could contain terrifying, violent, or whatever shade of dark imagery, or whatever subject, really) delivered in a compelling way. I think it’s worth developing and experimenting with a repertoire of performance styles. A few months ago, I saw Ken Sparling read and he delivered his stories in a notch just above a stage whisper, and it drew me in in an atypical way.

  2. “Direct engagement with the work.” Amen to that, John.

    And there are many ways to do this: critical engagement, creative engagement, anecdotal/personal engagement…

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