Chapter 1: An Interview with Alexandra Naughton
This series of interviews with writers/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.
Should be easy right? Let’s see if we can figure this out, together. Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted. When all is said and done, we’ll have developed the simple formula for the perfect reading. Or maybe we’ll have learned enough to have more questions to answer.
Name: Alexandra Naughton
Location: Bay Area, California
What do you host and for how long have you hosted it?
AN: I host be about it reading series, ongoing for 3 years. I started off just doing readings for my zine, also called be about it, but then I started getting requests from out-of-town writers to do readings, so I started hosting them more regularly. It’s not a regular thing, like sometimes I’ll host three readings in one month, sometimes months pass. Mostly, I host them if someone from out of town is passing through, or if I want to celebrate something. I think if I did have a scheduled regular reading, like once a month, it would feel more like work and not be fun.
How long have you been attending readings?
AN: Since high school.
Why are readings important?
AN: Readings are important for people who like to go to readings. I do it because I think it’s fun. It’s like a party, and I love throwing parties. I like when people who don’t normally come to readings come to my readings.
Do people show up to your readings on time?
AN: Not really. “Poetry time” is a thing. It’s always like, this thing starts at 7, but really it’s gonna start at 8 or 8:30. People need to settle in, talk to their friends.
How do you structure readings? Is there an open?
AN: I give each reader no more than 10 minutes. There is usually a feature. If I have an out-of-towner they go last and can use a little more time. No open. I honestly hate open mics. I know why they exist, but I’m not really a fan.
I started bringing a band, Lake Lady, into some of my shows, for fun. I want them to be my house band, to be honest.
As a host, what do you do to help ensure the audience has a good time?
AN: I look for an age range for features [and a] target audience range. I want everyone to bring something different, and then I arrange it so it harmonizes. Like, I think about what crowds they’ll bring out. You don’t want to invite a bunch of people to read who are all in the same social circle, because they’ll draw out the same people. And [then] new people won’t get that exposure [and] new audience people won’t get that exposure.
What is the average age of people who attend your readings?
AN: Can I just give you a range? I get everything from high-school to people in their 70s. It depends on who reads. Most of my poetry friends are Generation X.
What thing(s) have to happen to make the reading a “success”?
AN: The people in the audience should laugh, and have fun, and that’s really all that matters. Also, if people in the audience are like, “What the fuck just happened?” I think that’s a sign of a successful reading as well.
What is the strangest thing that has happened at a reading?
AN: [This past] Friday, Mark Cronin danced to a remix of “Fuck the Pain Away” by Peaches and then collapsed on the floor and said I’m sorry over and over and then laid motionless for 3 minutes and then I helped him off the stage.
Do you pay features? If so, how much?
AN: I don’t pay, but I wish I could. I started passing around a hat for out-of-towners.
Who else hosts good readings? Who I should talk to for this series?
AN: Robert Duncan Gray, Paul Corman Roberts, and Amy Berkowitz.
What question do you think I should ask the people I interview that I didn’t ask you?
AN: What’s your vision?
Read part 2 in the series here.
Interview by Tyler Barton.