Read part 1 in the series here.

Chapter 2: An Interview with Mark Cugini

This series of interviews with writer/organizers aims to explore why and how to have a literary reading—a good literary reading—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience while also creating a supportive environment for readers.

Last week we heard from Alexandra Naughton who emphasized that diversifying your readers will in turn diversify your audiences. She also argued that if an audience isn’t laughing, something is quite right. This week, Mark Cugini gets sincere about what readings mean for building community.

(Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted. When this series is all said and done, maybe we’ll have developed the simple formula for the perfect reading. Or maybe we’ll learn enough to make more questions to answer. Enjoy.)


Name: Mark Cugini

Location: DC

What series do you run and how long?

MC: I ran a regular series here for four years. [It was called] Three Tents, which was a monthly series that brought out-of-town indie writers together with locals and MFA students. I just shut down the series, but I’m still throwing readings every month, it seems.

How/Why did Three Tents get started?

MC: Like most things, it was a kinda spur-of-the-moment decision–we had accepted these excepts from Joseph Riippi’s THE ORANGE SUITCASE, and he was looking to book a reading in DC but couldn’t find a venue. It just seems natural for us, since we love Joe and we love a lot of people here, to put something together for him and see what happened.

Was the series related to Big Lucks?

MC: I do consider it a part of Big Lucks, but that’s because Big Lucks is not just about publishing good work—It’s about building and contributing to a community, across all mediums. (Sorry that’s romantic, but it’s true)

Did the readings have a set structure or format that you could describe?

MC: I always like booking out-of-town people with local people, because it sort of opens up a sense of kinship and community, I think. I never like having more than 5 readers. Beyond that, it’s sort of a free-for-all. I don’t even give the readers time limits–if they ask me, I just tell them “don’t be boring.”

How do you (or how have you seen hosts/organizers) foster diversity at readings? 

MC: Around here, I honestly don’t see much diversity being fostered–at least at the readings I go to in DC, which seem to be predominately white and often are predominately male. I’m trying to be better about that by doing three things: a) reading more POC writers; b) going to more diverse events that feature POC authors and are open about creating safe spaces; and c) protesting readings that are predominately white by just not going to the event (which is a Jennifer Tamayo idea).

How do you promote or get people to come out? Do you see the same people coming out or are there consistently new faces?

 MC: We used to list our events on a bunch of local arts calendars, and I have good relationships with a lot of people that work with local arts magazines. We would see a good mix of old-and-new faces usually, and a lot of that is because we’re consistently trying to find new audiences at MFA events, other reading series, other arts communities, etc.

What makes a reading a success in your eyes?

MC: I don’t wanna jump off a bridge once it’s over.

Haha. I know what you mean.

MC: Can I answer this as a writer?


MC: As a performer, I think I can kind of instinctively tell based on the energy in the room. I feel like giving a reading is not about validating your ego, but about putting yourself out there in a way where you can feel the gap between yourself and the audience closing. I gave a reading last night and I swear, even before the fucking thing was over, it felt like the whole audience was giving me a hug. I didn’t even have to look up to know that–I was projecting my love to them, and they laughed and they sighed and they clapped and they took deep breaths at all the places that made me feel those feelings. So to me, I know a reading is a success when I walk off the stage and I feel love.

What makes a reading bad? List a few things. 


  1. a) if you have to explain yourself
  2. b) if you didn’t practice how long your reading was going to take
  3. c) if you’re being selfish and making the reading about you and not the audience

Who else should I interview for this series?

MC: Natalie Eilbert or Mike Krutel.


Mark Cugini is the author of I’m Just Happy To Be Here (Ink Press, 2014).His work has appeared in The Lifted Brow, Sink Review, Hyperallergic, Barrelhouse, Noö, and Hobart, among others. He is the managing editor of Big Lucks Books.