Read chapters 1-9 here.
Chapter 10: An interview with Mensah Demary
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.
A week ago, we heard from Rob Sturma, who’s past readings in LA featured a lively DJ, which parallels the music-themed readings Mensah Demary is currently hosting in Brooklyn, NY.
(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: Mensah Demary
Location: Brooklyn, NY.
What is your reading series called, and how long has it been going?
MD: Our reading series is called LIT: A Music & Reading Series (or LIT for short). It’s co-hosted and curated by myself and Alicia Kennedy. It’s about five months old now, with our fourth event coming up [in July]
So it’s a monthly reading?
MD: Yes, we’re monthly.
You’re the first person from Brooklyn that I’ve interviewed for this series, and I imagine there are many reading series going on there. How do you think LIT stands out? What makes it different?
MD: We use music as the differentiating factor between us and other readings. Each LIT event has a live set DJ’d by Sareen Patel. And each event is centered around a specific artist. Our previous readings were centered around Drake, Rihanna, Kurt Cobain & Courtney Love. July’s event will feature Janet Jackson.
We try to bring a party atmosphere to every event; each reading ends with a two hour party.
Is the musical feature based at all on the featured reader(s)?
MD: Alicia and I agree on an artist to use as the theme, or aesthetic, of the reading. We then look for readers who might fit that theme. The readers don’t have to necessarily read something about the artist.
What have the audiences been like at your readings? Diverse in age and race? Do you retain audience well?
MD: The audience makeup varies slightly, depending on the artist. There were fewer people of color at the Kurt/Courtney reading than, say, Drake. The audience tends to be young, in their late 20s or early 30s (like Alicia, Sareen, and me). Our audience is definitely younger and more diverse than some other reading series.
We have a few people who’ve come to multiple events, but because the artist changes every month, we tend to have fresh faces in the crowd every time out.
What made you want to start a reading series? Why do you do it?
MD: I was tweeting about writers and socializing, [and] how it tends to be hard for writers to work a room, to meet like-minded people. And I wanted to participate in a reading (as a reader), but wasn’t quite sure how that happens.
Alicia replied in a tweet something to the effect of “let’s start our own reading.” We jumped on email, worked out the details, and launched the first LIT three weeks later.
What are some ways writer’s can work a room, develop that vibe with the audience?
MD: Music and alcohol helps. But also recognition that other writers in the room are just as uncomfortable. It helps to be confident to some degree, confident in your work and being able to speak on it. I have terrible stage fright, but I get up and banter with the crowd because I want to connect. If I can connect, then maybe someone else in the crowd will want to connect with the person sitting next to them, and so on.
A lofty goal, maybe. Or naive. But I believe in it.
Do you feel that readings are an important place for community building to happen?
MD: Yes. Which is why we emphasize or encourage people to hang out at the end and mingle. It’s not about networking, though I’m sure that happens. It’s about feeling less alone, given the inherent loneliness of being a writer.
I totally get that. So what is the best thing that has happened at a LIT reading?
MD: It was fun to see crowd participation during our June event. One of the readers (I’ll have to confirm her name) had an audience member come up and read part of her poetry with her.
More than that, I think it’s awesome to see people hang out at the end. I’m never sure if people will stay, but some do. One day I expect the entire audience to stay. One day soon.
Can you list a few things that you’ve seen or seen happen at other readings that you were sure you wanted to prevent from happening at LIT? Like, some examples of what not to do?
MD: We want the audience to be comfortable, so our venues tend to have plenty of seating space and room to walk around. We use intermissions as a way for people to get drinks and mingle further. But we also keep things moving. All of our readings thus far have been 90 minutes or less in length, leaving more time for the party portion of LIT.
Lastly, I wanted to ask how you promote or spread the word about your readings?
MD: Social media, primarily. Between Twitter and Facebook, we get the word out. Alicia hosts her own events, so we always see a spike in interest whenever she does her thing. And we can’t discount word of mouth. That’ll be more and more helpful to us as we make LIT a Brooklyn mainstay.
Mensah Demary is associate web editor for Catapult, as well as executive editor of Specter Magazine. A columnist for The Butter, Mensah has appeared in PANK, Electric Literature, Salon, and elsewhere. Mensah lives and writes in Brooklyn.