Read Chapters 1-11 here.
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.
Baltimore’s Mike Tager talked about structure and organization in last week’s interview. This week, we’ll slide to the other end of that spectrum, where Carrie Reilly’s Philadelphia readings emphasize going with the flow.
(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!)
Name: Carrie Reilly
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Tell me about the reading series you host.
CR: Wild Mischief takes place in Philadelphia and readings just started at the beginning of June.
Oh, so it’s brand new.
CR: It is. We’ve had two readings so far and one planned in the next two weeks.
How is it going so far?
CR: It’s going great. At first I was worried about finding enough readers to do this consistently, but I underestimated the writing community.
How are the Wild Mischief readings structured? Give me a quick rundown of what a reading looks like.
CR: For the summer, city parks are the venue. Generally people show up, spread out some blankets, take their shoes off, eat some snacks. Then I open the reading with a poem (not my own). There is no order for the featured readers. I generally just ask who wants to go next and that’s how the order happens. They generally have 7-10 minutes of reading time and afterwards, I encourage the audience to come read anything they’d like (poem, fiction, letter, journal entry) for three minutes each.
Sounds awesome. Did you take any notes or strategies from other Philly readings when planning Wild Mischief? Were there any reading series or hosts that were specifically influential?
CR: I came up with Wild Mischief after attending a bunch of off-site readings at AWP that really felt like they helped foster community. I remembered this event I attended in New Orleans a few years ago that took place on some steps downtown in the Quarter. There was food passed around and lots of chatting and hanging out. Everyone in the audience could go up at any time and read whatever they wanted. It was very organic and unstructured and it felt great.
I’ve been talking to so many host/organizers about structure, guidelines, rules, and other things to keep readings smooth, but do you find an unstructured approach to be more inviting. Do you think this is what separates Wild Mischief from other readings in the area?
CR: I wouldn’t say Wild Mischief is entirely unstructured, but less so than other readings I’ve been to, and I suppose that is what separates it from other series. Also, being outdoors helps. In the fall, we’ll be indoors, so I’m curious to see how the vibe changes.
I noticed Wild Mischief because of a very well designed, attractive flyer on Facebook. How have you been promoting/spreading the word about readings? What have your audiences been like?
CR: The graphic designer is really talented, right? Her name is Rachel Tornatore. I usually use Facebook events to promote and have the readers invite people they know to the event. Also, I’ll share the flyer on Tumblr and Instagram and post it in coffee shops, at bus stops, and relevant businesses around the city.
The audiences so far have been twenty and thirty-somethings, mostly friends of readers and people who heard about the reading through the grapevine.
What do you think can be the biggest factor in preventing people from coming out to a live reading?
CR: That’s a good question. I’d say if they don’t feel like there’s a reader they can relate to/have an interest in. Having a diverse group of readers is important for that reason.
How many readers do you have at each reading? Do you diversify in terms of race/ethnicity, age, or style of work?
CR: I aim for 4-6 readers. I don’t know that I intentionally diversify, but I definitely don’t group together readers of similar backgrounds/ similar work aesthetics. I do intentionally group out-of-town readers with readers from the city, though.
Why do you think readings are important?
CR: I guess all writing (and every other art form) is intended to create a meaningful connection with the audience. It bridges some sort of gap, where we may not know the reader at all, but feel connected to them/their work in some way. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but sharing that type of connection is necessary for me, and doing so in a way that is informal and inviting only seems to strengthen the possibility of people relating to one another.
Carrie Reilly is a poet, educator, and host of the Wild Mischief series. They earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and their have poems have been published here & there. Their work is also part of a collective chapbook, “Bodies of Fire,” with Philadelphia poets Julia C. Alter and Julia Perch.