Laura Spence Ash, Laurie Lico Albanese, and Victoria Redel gave beautiful readings that left the audience wanting to hear more—always a good sign! Their thoughtful conversation during the question and answer portion of the evening was also inspiring. And Laurie Lico Albanese had Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer puppets with her!
For our final reading of the 2016-7 season, we welcomed Nicole Cooley, David Galef, Cynthia Manick, and Craig Morgan Teicher to the Red Eye Cafe. Nicole Cooley, a Glen Ridge resident, read from two compelling forthcoming works that take dolls as inspiration, one poetry and one nonfiction. David Galef, who teaches at Montclair State University, read amusing flash fiction from "short to shorter to shortest." Cynthia Manick, visiting from Brooklyn, read from her beautiful, acclaimed debut poetry collection Blue Hallelujahs, as well as a newer poem about self-care. Craig Morgan Teicher, a Verona resident, read moving, and at times funny, poems from his newest collection, The Trembling Answers.
After they read from their work, the readers joined series host and cofounder Apryl Lee for a Q&A. The first question from the audience was for Apryl: "Why is the series called Halfway There?" An audience member correctly guessed that it was after the Bon Jovi lyric from "Livin' on a Prayer." "We tried to find a Springsteen lyric..." Apryl said. The title also alludes to works in progress, our focus on emerging writers, and our proximity to New York City.
Asked about how they start projects, Cynthia Manick said that she hates writing, but loves when she's done. Craig Morgan Teicher described how parenthood inspires him, as well as investigating how he got to where he is in his life. David Galef said he starts with an "absurd 'what if' premise." Nicole Cooley said that she never relies on feeling inspired to write, but rather tricks herself into it, saying things like, "Let's write with my eyes closed for ten minutes..." Manick agreed and said, "How about writing in this corner of the page, then that corner of the page?" Nicole said she often says to her students, "if the worst thing you did all day is write a bad poem, you're having a pretty good day." Words to live by!
See you next season everyone! Stay tuned for our 2017-18 dates. Thanks for a great year!
January 9th, 2017 was cold. The ground was covered with snow and ice. "No one is going to come out in this weather," we worried. But--literature lovers of Montclair, we shouldn't have doubted you. Not only did people come out to the Red Eye Cafe, but the audience was our biggest yet! More than fifty people, including a growing community of past and future readers, joined us for an evening of the kind of warmth that only coffee and literary camaraderie can provide.
Host and series co-founder Apryl Lee welcomed everyone back for our first reading of the new year and introduced Alice Elliott Dark, who read from her novel-in-progress We All Fall Down, which she explained is like a 19th century novel where the women own the property. The audience was rapt and despite the perfect last line she ended her reading on, was dying for more. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long before we can all get our hands on the finished book.
Elisabeth Egan read next, also debuting an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. She shared a passage from the beginning of the book about friendship and the ubiquitousness of the name Jennifer in the 1980s that had the audience applauding with recognition and then concluded with a portion of the story chosen specifically to cater to the New Jersey bent of Halfway There. While she introduced it with an anecdote about a phase of home-state disavowal that many New Jersey natives go through, which she termed "New Jersey Rumspringa," this chapter described a specific slice of the Jersey Shore in a way that was both honest and rapturous.
Elizabeth Onusko shared a selection of poetry from her collection Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor. Later, she described the thematic through-line of her book as what happens when "the body and society turn against themselves." At times funny, at times devastating, her words were provocative and beautiful. She, too, concluded with a new and as-yet-unpublished work.
The last reader of the evening was Matthew Thorburn, who read from his book-length poem Dear Almost. Addressed to a child lost to miscarriage, Thorburn said a central question of the book is, "How do you mourn someone you were never able to know?" Organized around the passing of the seasons, he read a series of meditative, moving selections from Spring and Autumn.
Highlights of the audience Q&A that followed the readings included Elizabeth Onusko quipping, when asked how the writers began writing, that they all did it for the money, and one of Alice Elliott Dark's students asking, "I'm wondering if Alice can speak to how her Rutgers students inspire her?" "From dawn until dusk!" she responded. Book-buying, book-signing, and mingling lasted until the last possible second. We can't wait for our next event!
We hang in our second season of Halfway There with a packed house and a line-up of four fantastic readers. It was a great welcome back.
Mark de Silva kicked off the readings, sharing a rare self-contained passage from the novel SQUARE WAVE, which he describes as "kaleidoscopic." Ben Greenman followed him, reading not from his newest book, EMOTIONAL RESCUE, but from a series of shorts he'd selected in honor of the reading falling on the night of the first presidential debate (we ended a little early so everyone could get home in time to see the theatrics), including "When Animals Run Attack Ads." Rachel Eliza Griffiths was up next, reading from her book of poetry LIGHTING THE SHADOW. She read a series of poems, ending with "Elegy" and "Anti-Elegy." About historical and contemporary violence against black people, particularly black boys, Griffiths updated a passage as she read, including "Tulsa" and "Charlotte" in the list of places that have become synonymous with the murder of black men by police. Sara Weiss completed the line-up, reading from her just-completed novel manuscript TRAVEL LIGHT. She shared a chapter in which her main character, a teenager named Molly Bird, visits her mother at the campus of a non-attachment cult, and is confronted with what it means to "travel light."
Each of the readers was warm and insightful during the audience Q+A. Ben Greenman shared that he often chooses work to read aloud that will elicit either "laughter or derision" from the audience; if he reads something serious, he said, he can't tell if the audience is paying attention or bored. Rachel Eliza Griffiths talked about the way her writing life intersects with her other creative work--she is also a visual artist--and described how her routine includes either writing or reading something related to her writing every day. Mark de Silva talked about authors V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee who inform his work with their engagement with the history and legacy of colonialism. Sara Weiss spoke about how having children has made her a more productive writer; she writes for two hours two days a week when she has a babysitter and during nap time, giving her no time to procrastinate. She also found a way to answer the very difficult question an audience member lobbed at the writers: why do you write? Weiss said it wasn't for a concrete reward, but because she was continually teaching herself as she went, and that each successive work she writes contributes to her education.
It was a really inspiring night. We can't wait for January!
The final reading of Halfway There's inaugural season featured poet James Capozzi, nonfiction writer Sarah Dohrmann, fiction writer Helen Phillips, and our very own co-founder and host, fiction writer Apryl Lee. As always, the crowd at the Red Eye Cafe was generous with their applause and their questions, but this time they were also generous with their wallets, shelling out for a special raffle, with prizes like Halfway There merch, past readers' books, and gift certificates to the cafe and to Watchung Booksellers. There are fewer photographs than usual because, with Apryl reading, there were half the cameras snapping, but we wouldn't have had it any other way. It was a beautiful literary night to cap off a season that made us very proud!
We always conceived of Halfway There as a quarterly series, but it turns out four readings a year isn't nearly enough. There are so many incredible writers to showcase! Apryl came up with the idea to have Halfway There pop-up for an additional spring reading. So, we opened up a submissions period, connected with the Montclair Art Museum, and, on April 7th, popped up at the Museum's Free First Thursday Nights with a terrific line-up. April is National Poetry Month, so we were thrilled to feature poetry by Melissa Adamo, Ananda Lima and Joseph Rathgeber. We were just as happy, of course, to present fiction writers Mark Andrew Ferguson, Joseph Palestina and Kem Joy Ukwu. The writers--all New Jersey residents--shared their work with an audience overflowing the capacity of the Museum's Rotunda gallery. It was hard to get a real count, but somewhere between sixty and seventy-five folks crowded into the beautiful space to hear the readers. It was a fun and inspiring evening!
Our third packed house in a row! It was standing room only at Red Eye Cafe, and we were thrilled to welcome John Keene, Brenda Shaughnessy and Boris Tsessarsky to Halfway There. All three were incredible, engaging readers. As the pictures clearly show, the audience was entranced.
John Keene read "The Aeronauts" from his book Counternarratives. By the end of his breathless reading, people (i.e. series co-curator, Nicole) had tears in their eyes. Brenda Shaughnessy read "I Wish I Had More Sisters" and "Artless" from Our Andromeda as well as some selections from the much antiptaed “So Much Synth,” a "dyke house" and Melissa Etheridge, and her time machine that traveled into the future one second, every second; she had the audience laughing from the moment she got up in front of the crowd. Boris Tsessarsky read an excerpt of a story that brought together war journalism and film--fitting since he just had a film accepted into the NYC Independent Film Festival!
Series host and co-curator Apryl Lee invited John, Brenda and Boris up after the readings for an audience Q&A. Highlights included their surprisingly unified response to the question of where they write. All agreed that their psychological spaces were more important than their physical spaces. Brenda mentioned how taking singing lessons helped her write her manuscript; Boris agreed that stepping outside of your comfort zone and not being precious about writing routines can be key to producing work. All three writers also teach--Brenda and John had students in the audience--and spoke about the role of their jobs in their work. The last few questions of the night had to do with research. John revealed that the ideas behind Counternarratives had been percolating long before he realized he would write the book.
It was another inspiring night and, as always, it was wonderful to see literary New Jersey come together in the crowd!
We were thrilled to host readers Tobias Carroll, Claudia Cortese, Hillary Frank and Naomi J. Williams at the Red Eye Cafe on December 14th. All either New Jersey-natives or current New Jersey residents, they shared short fiction, poetic essays, nonfiction and novel excerpts with an appreciative, completely packed house. Watchung Booksellers was on hand to sell copies of Naomi J. Williams's debut novel Landfalls and Hillary Frank's young adult novel I Can't Tell You. Claudia Cortese had her chapbooks for sale and we eagerly await her forthcoming poetry collection, as well as Tobias Carroll's short story collection, due out next year. Rounding out the merch table were our new Halfway There tote bags, mugs and magnets. (Drop us a line if you want to buy some!)
Audience members asked thoughtful questions during the culminating Q&A session on topics such as writing difficult, vulnerable subject matter and taking risks.
Apryl announced that our submission period would open on January 1st to find new voices for a special pop-up reading event in May. (Check out our submissions page for details!) We also announced our March readers: John Keene, Ed Park, Boris Tsessarsky and Brenda Shaughnessy.
We were so pleased with the evening and can't wait for the next reading in March!
Every seat in the house and then some were filled for the first installment of Halfway There! The Red Eye Cafe brewed up cappuccinos and served brownies, Margot from Watchung Booksellers set up a table of our authors' books, and we watched in awe as people arrived, becoming the audience we hoped would materialize. The room of college students, a local writing group, family members, friends and literature enthusiasts proved what we suspected was true: Montclair is the perfect home for a reading series.
Series host, area resident and fiction writer Apryl Lee introduced the evening. (Make sure to mark your calendars for our season closer, June 13th, when Apryl will be one of the readers, sharing her own work!) Series co-founder Nicole Haroutunian read first, a slightly shortened version of the story "Vandals," from her collection Speed Dreaming. Next up was new Maplewood resident Abby Sher, who told a moving story about how attempting to serve a dog poop sandwich to her rabbi actually brought her closer to adulthood. Abby charmed the audience into joining her in a call-and-response to the tune of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film." Last was Montclair resident Matthew Thomas, who read a passage from his beautiful, complicated novel We Are Not Ourselves. The scene he chose--a husband and wife going to see the Christmas window display at Lord and Taylor--was exemplary of the tension, humor and empathy that characterizes his book.
After the readings, Apryl led a Q&A session, asking first about the readers' connection to New Jersey and then about their thoughts on the work-life balance. Matthew explained that what many people think are New Jersey's detriments are actually among its best qualities, using the liberal anthem "Born in the USA," lamentably co-opted by the Right Wing, as an example. "It's green here!" he insisted. Abby shared "The Pomodoro Technique," which employs the use of the common tomato kitchen timer to enforce a writing schedule. In response to an audience question about voice, Nicole talked about accepting that hers is consistent across stories. Once described as "diffident" by a detractor, she said that she actually embraces that term now; her characters are diffident--so what?
The event concluded with more conversation and book signings. You can buy the authors' books in person at Watchung Booksellers, or online here: