Chapter 17: An Interview with Brent Rydin
Read chapters 1-16 here.
This series of interviews with writer/curators 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. (Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted.)
Brent Rydin has been editing the beautiful online lit mag, Wyvern Lit, for about two years, but he’s been hosting readings for less than two months. I was excited to talk to Brent about how his first two readings went and how he plans to improve as the series takes shape.
Name: Brent Rydin
Location: Boston, MA
Can you start off by telling me what your reading series is called, and how long you’ve done it?
BR: Absolutely. I’m based in Boston and have had the first two readings at a great bookstore/café called Trident. It’s been a favorite place of mine for a while. I did a reading there in January and got to be friends with the event coordinator there and started chatting about throwing some events—it just kind of rolled from there.
What made you want to start a reading?
BR: A big motivation for it has been the fact that there are so many writers in New England, and the Boston area specifically, but you don’t see the kind of community here that you see in places like LA and New York, and I just wanted to try to do my part to build that up a bit more.
Are you going to turn this into a regular series?
BR: I’m hoping to turn it into a series, ideally every month or two.
How long have you been attending readings yourself?
BR: I’d honestly never been to many. I went to one last year with a professor/mentor of mine, Okey Ndibe, but other than that it didn’t really start for me until I jumped in on the Boston leg of Eric Shonkwiler’s tour for “Above All Men.”
Are there many other reading series or events going on regularly in Boston? Are they easy to hear/find out about?
BR: Yes and no. There’s always a lot going on because it’s such a university/college-heavy city, but that’s typically big-name stuff, quote-unquote major writers from the big publishing houses coming through town. In terms of indie stuff, though, there seems to be less, or it’s tougher to find out about. I know Janaka Stucky does a lot of Black Ocean events, although I haven’t managed to get to any yet. That said, we had a great turnout at these two events, and there was a lot of interest in building the kind of thing I’m hoping to build.
Excellent. Let’s talk about the two readings you’ve done so far. How did you structure the events?
BR: Anyway, as for structure. I got five readers for each – the first was primarily fiction with a little bit of poetry thrown in the mix, and the second was three poets and two fiction writers. I got five [readers] for each [event], and then kind of had myself as a benchwarmer. If there wasn’t time for me to read, I was cool with just emceeing. I was luckily able to read a little bit too, which I felt kind of weird about, because I didn’t know if it was like… I don’t know, weird of me to read at an event I was throwing. But it ended up being perfect because it gave me the chance to kind of wrap things up in a way that wasn’t too final. I could segue into [the reading] being a social thing as opposed to strictly a reading.
Obviously I’m all for people having “their” readings with other folks as openers, like when someone’s on tour, but I think my favorite thing—why it was such a success in my eyes—was that it belonged to everyone.
The quality of the writing is obviously important, but I wanted the sense of community to be just as much of a priority.
How long each reader go for? Was there an open mic?
BR: I [planned for] 10-12ish. Some were slightly more, some slightly less, but it was all in that ballpark. And, no open mic. I’m all for that, but it’s just not something I have any experience with, and wouldn’t really feel comfortable organizing. I have all the respect in the world for people who can throw something like an open mic, but I just couldn’t mentally handle it.
So what things did you do as a host to make people feel comfortable, welcome, and a part of the reading?
BR: For both of them, we got a bit of a late start, so I just got up a couple times beforehand to say hi and let people know we’d be getting started soon, to thank everyone for being there, thank the folks at Trident (who are incredible), etc.
In terms of making people feel comfortable, I just kind of made sure to be genuine. I made it a social thing as opposed to a literary thing, talked to everyone as friends who I just didn’t necessarily know yet. Out loud, especially when there are people listening, I can be a little ramble-y and awkward, but I just made sure to be me and be honest—not be some kind of showman. And people seemed to be okay with that. It meant a ton to me for everyone to be there, and I didn’t let myself be embarrassed to let that show. I was really overwhelmed (in a good way), and I guess I just wasn’t about to pretend otherwise.
How long did the event end up being? Did people hangout after?
BR: All told, they were both about an hour and a half, and a good contingent of five to ten people stuck around for [about] 45 minutes after each.
How did you go about choosing readers?
BR: I put it out there on Twitter that I was looking for folks in the area to read, but I also emailed people who I knew were within an hour or two. That said, with the fact that everything is on Twitter, you don’t necessarily know where people are located, so it’s kind of just a matter of reaching out however you can. It was a matter of seeing how schedules lined up.
Honestly, a big part of it was luck. The people who were available on the particular nights were just such great fits for each other. Everyone really meshed as a group, and they were very different but had very similar, intimate, close-friend vibes.
I saw you did some online promotion. Did you use any other forms of promotion or word-spreading to get people out? Was it mostly word of mouth?
BR: Yeah, primarily social media and word-of-mouth. Everyone involved really spread the word, and even people who weren’t involved (because that’s the great literary community we’ve got on Twitter, etc).
I threw together the FB event page somewhat more last-minute than I should’ve in retrospect, and then just kept putting the word out.
So, with you being two readings in, I’m most curious to know what you plan to do differently/better (not that I’m saying the reading needs improvements!) but every time I attend or host a reading, I ride home thinking, “I have to do this next time…” or “I’ve got to try to prevent ___ from happening next time.”
Basically, how do you plan to go up from here?
BR: The future is intimidating.
It’s tough not to just fall back on bringing back the same folks because they all did so well, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t know what to expect so I’m just going to nervously try to let myself be comfortable with not knowing what to expect for future events.
I definitely want to bring people back, but I also want to bring in new people (obviously). I want to include people who are coming through town on tour, but I do want to make sure it’s still a local, community-focused thing. From a logistical standpoint, and this is less about readings and more about my organizational skills, I just want to make sure I get stuff done earlier. Getting bios, getting ISBNs for readers’ books, getting the FB event pages made. I tend to take a pretty improvisational approach to stuff, and I want to keep doing that because it’s what works for me; stuff that I can do more in advance, though, I’d like to get a better jump on than I did.
What’s the funniest/best thing that has happened at one of your readings?
BR: Um, that’s a good question…at the second one, the battery died on the mic, and they’d lost the battery cover so it was closed up with electrical tape. So I unwrapped the thing and put in the new battery and taped it back up, but it still wasn’t working. So, I told Emily O’Neill to basically just yell, which she was luckily totally cool with.
Brent Rydin lives in Boston with his wife and their dog, and is the founding editor of Wyvern Lit. His writing can be found in numerous online venues, and will be featured in the inaugural Best Small Fictions anthology from Queen’s Ferry Press. He tweets, often either too much or hardly at all, at @brntrydn.