Literary Reading Series Gone Virtual

Christina M. Rau

Staff Writer

Christina M. Rau is the author of the sci-fi fem poetry collection, Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press, 2017), and the chapbooks WakeBreatheMove (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and For The Girls, I (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). In her non-writing life, she teaches yoga occasionally and line dances on other occasions.

These reading series have gone virtual! Writers have often gathered face-to-face in libraries, bars, town halls, book shops, and other public places to listen to literature out loud. Now some of these gatherings have leapt into the online world.

There have been tough decisions. What platform do we use? Will our WiFi hold up? How do I let my audience know it’s happening? Will hackers hack in? How do we ensure accessibility?

Reading series curators and lit lovers are all still wading through these questions. Some answers are easy. Some need to be tweaked. Overall, the series are doing their best to complete their mission: sharing creativity.

If you’d like to listen to literature read out loud in real time, join in. Also, if you’ve been writing and want to share, join in. Basically, join in the literary landscape of virtual readings.

Word Thursdays Bright Hills Press

I’ve mentioned Bright Hill Press before. They are a gem of a literary community located in mountains of Treadwell, New York. Their Word Thursdays series has a long-standing history coupled with their art gallery openings. Every second and fourth Thursday of the month, they are hosting a featured reader and an open mic. The open mic is via pre-recorded videos sent to the hosts.

The featured reader comes to your living room live via the Bright Hill Press Facebook Live feed. If you miss it live, they post it on their Vimeo page. Check out Alicia Ostriker (Waiting for the Light ) in her NYC apartment as a featured reader.

DiVerse Gaithersburg

DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic series is located, physically, in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. They encourage writers of that metro area to share their work with the local community through their featured readings and open mics, usually in the afternoons at the Quince Orchard Library.

Now they are online and have moved into the evening (7:00 p.m. EST). Their first online reading featured Gregory Luce (Drinking Weather), Naomi Theirs (Only The Raw Hands Are Heaven), and Diane Wilbon Parks (The Wisdom of Blue Apples).

Readings By Writers

Readings By Writers is hosted by Writing By Writers (WxW), a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting the craft of writing and the compassion for reading. Geographically, they reside in California. Pam Houston hosts writers online on Monday and Thursday at 5:00 p.m. PDT / 8:00 p.m. EDT. April’s readings have included Fenton Johnson (At The Center Of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life), Jericho Brown (The Tradition), and Ginger Gaffney (Half Broke). These readings don’t have an open mic. They do have literary brilliance.

Readings On The Pike

Readings On The Pike is a series in Arlington, Virginia, usually hosted at the Acme Pie Company. Which sounds absolutely delicious, and now I want to live there (I like pie). The third Tuesday of every month hosts several voices at the mic.

Host Hannah Grieco is now going virtual for the first time. She is aware of accessibility challenges in converting the series. The readings will include a written copy of materials in the chat section of the online platform. The series is also exploring options for closed captioning. Also, if requested, they will try to use sign language interpreters.

Spilled Ink

Spilled Ink (West) is another Virginia reading series (Virginia! I like your style!). Usually this series meets at Jirani Coffee House the fourth Friday of the month from 7:00–10:00 p.m. This series is an open mic night, now online.

As with some other series, they are posting their link very close to the meeting times. This cuts down on hackers coming in and wreaking havoc.

Litquake on Lockdown

Litquake Foundation is a nonprofit in the Bay Area of California. They host a literary festival, workshops, and a lot of different programming. Their readings series is now entitled Litquake on Lockdown (that alliteration!). They have an entire video archive with an updated schedule of upcoming events on the way.

Check out fiction writers Nayomi Munaweera (Island Of A Thousand Mirrors), R.O. Kwon (The Incendiaries), and Ingrid Rojas Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree) discussing writing during times of stress. Watch and listen to poets Kazim Ali (Inquisition), Tongo Eisen-Martin (someone’s dead already), and Jane Hirschfield (Ledger) reading for National Poetry Month.

New Voices In Poetry

New Voices In Poetry is a series out of West Shokan, New York, through the Olive Free Library. The library has been able to convert a lot of their programming into an online forum. Their New Voices series for April features Sarah Van Arsdale (In Case of Emergency Break Glass), Sean Singer (Honey & Smoke) and David Groff (Clay).

Listen! A Poetry Reading

Listen! is a series usually located at Nick’s Bar & Restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts. They’ve moved Listen! to a virtual venue. The poet Eve Rivkah featured one week. She says the plus side was being able to see the facial expressions of other poets who read. A down side—or maybe just an awkward side—was having a connection to the audience. The faces bounce around sometimes, so she found focusing on people and maintaining a connection a challenge.

As a side note, when I’ve done readings and audiences are on mute, it felt bizarre. Like I was reading to my house, and my house was Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” house.

The Muse Exchange

The Muse Exchange out of East Setauket, New York, has been bringing down the Velvet Lounge every other Thursday with its eclectic style. The hosts, Pete Lotus Arevalo and Andrea Lawl Manning, literally yell people onto the stage. Writers, singers, jokesters, and anyone who has any words is welcome.

Now they host their Open Mic from the Edge as a Facebook watch party at 8:30 p.m. EST (or thereabouts). There’s a signup in advance by submitting a five minute video. Everyone is also encouraged to post however-long videos in the discussion. Then anyone watching can also offer feedback and simply chat.

I’m sure there are more. This list is simply one of opportunity and possibility. In addition to readings and open mics, there are workshops going on. There are children’s storytimes. There are adult’s storytimes. Oceanside Library (NY) has programming all day every day into the evenings (I’m their Poet In Residence, so I should know. Shameless plug). Literature is alive!

When I was conducting a workshop for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association at the beginning of this month, we were on Facebook Live. Some of the members were wary about using Facebook, and so they didn’t attend. That was a drawback. One of the participants who did attend gleefully told us at the end of the program that she was so happy she got to participate. She explained she’s home-bound and unable to attend events in person. That is a huge plus! (Another shameless plug—I’m the WWBA Poet of the Year this year. I’m pulling double duty).

Events in person and online all have drawbacks, limits, and snafus. However, they also have energy, brightness, inspiration, and community. While we continue to troubleshoot, regroup, and work through the kinks, all those positives radiate through. We need good books. We need fiction and poetry. We need to listen and share, not just now, but always.

For more, check out Virtual Book Events You Can Attend From Home.