Read chapters 1-10 here.
Chapter 11: An interview with Mike Tager
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, Mensah Demary named isolation as an influence for starting a reading, and this week we’ll hear from Mike Tager, who, with his team of hosts, works to make audiences feel comfortable and welcome.
(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: Mike Tager
Location: Baltimore, MD
What is your reading series called? How long has it been going?
MT: Writers and Words is a monthly Baltimore-based Lit series. We started in September of 2014, so we’re relatively new.
I [also] created the REJECT reading, but passed that on a bit ago. I don’t believe Michelle has been involved with creating other series, though she’s read plenty.
Can you give me a rundown of the structure of W&W readings?
MT: Every month we feature 4 local (or local-ish) writers in 4 distinct genres: fiction, poetry, non-fiction/memoir, and the “wild card.” Our wild cards can and do encompass a wide range, from first-time writers to performance art and experimental writing.
We normally attract 50-70 people in the audience and have a little audience participation: whoever tweets the best/funniest thing to our Twitter account wins a book, for example. Or whoever reads found poetry wins a different book.
Every month we also have a unique, hand-made zine featuring work from each of the artists. We sell that for $3 and give the readers a free copy
Where are your readings hosted?
MT: Charmington’s in Baltimore. They’re a great fixture in the literary scene. They host multiple reading events.
How do you retain audience? Or is it new people coming every month?
MT: That’s a good question, and something we talk about a lot.
It’s hard to say how we retain audience. It does fluctuate month to month. We had a monster turn out in January. I believe when we had some great self-promoters. But the turnout was too good (upwards of 100) and the next month there was a bit of backlash and we had about 30. Which is still a great size!
Yeah, I consider even 25 people a knockout.
MT: We have a core group that comes—the Baltimore lit scene is a fairly tight community, but we’re constantly reaching out to new readers, especially ones that are outside of the silos.
What forms of promotion do you use?
MT: We have a website from which Michelle sends email blasts. We use Facebook of course. We also have a Twitter account that we let our readers have control of in the weeks leading up to the reading. Charmington’s hangs fliers.
Our readers do a lot of legwork themselves, as well.
We also sent out a few press releases. We’re considering sending out another one to promote our Year One Annual, which is an experimental thing that we’re promoting on our website and at the next reading.
What is the Year One Annual?
MT: [Since] we hand-make all of our zines, we have a bunch of leftover folios that we’re giving to people to create new work out of it. When they give it back to us, we’ll do something special with it. Michelle is our Creative Editor and she’s certainly that. The Annual is her idea
I’m looking at your twitter now, and I love this idea of having your featured readers take over the twitter.
MT: That was a great idea. One of our co-editors, Ian Anderson came up with that. I’d love to take credit for it
Are you the host of the readings?
MT: Usually, yes. Ian has hosted as well and in October, Michelle and Amanda (another co-editor who does most of our design work) will be taking a turn.
What do you or your co-hosts do to make the atmosphere comfortable or inviting?
MT: When I started going to readings, I was always super-nervous and anxious. I mean, I run that way anyway, but going to a new space where I didn’t know anyone can be intimidating. When we started doing our own readings, we tried talking to new people whenever possible, instead of just chatting to our buddies.
We try to make people feel at home.
We also try to not take ourselves too seriously when we’re hosting. We’ll read silly text messages on our phones as poetry; Michelle has a series called Notes From Her Phone since she has a tendency to sleep-text, or write garbled messages in the middle of the night.
What is the best thing that’s ever happened at W&W reading?
MT: One thing? Sheesh.
I love when two readers, who don’t often know each other, read pieces that speak to each other. We select readers based a lot on who we think will play off well, but sometimes it works better than others.
For May, our opener, Cory Cone (a horror writer), read this super creepy story about pregnancy that was remarkably uncomfortable. And our closer, Betsy Boy (memoir), read about her experiences becoming pregnant. It was funny and poignant. The two pieces reflected each other in fascinating ways and created a kind of unity. It was accidental and awesome.
What do you think successful live readings can do for a literary community?
MT: They can do a lot, honestly. One of our regular attendees told me that she comes because she wants to be inspired and readings help. Another mentioned how it makes her feel safe to work on her own stuff. They’re also just fun times. We try really hard to make it enjoyable.
If you had to give someone advice about dong a reading, but could only give them two distinct rules–one DO and one DONT–what would they be.
MT: You’re asking the Managing Editor that question. My mind immediately jumps to proper preparation and planning. .
I have a background in event planning and research. I have spreadsheets and crap. I annoy myself.
As for don’t, well: DON’T take yourself too seriously. It’s about the writing and readers and audience, not really about you.
Michael B. Tager’s work has appeared in Ambit, Timber, Baltimore Fishbowl, Theaker’s Quarterly, Atticus Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The Light Ekphrastic and more. He has work forthcoming from New Legends and Goldshader Press. He is the Managing Editor of Writers and Words, a monthly Baltimore reading series. He likes Buffy and the Orioles. He lives with his wife and two cats.
Damn, 50-70 people! I love the idea of having performance art as a “wildcard” and the audience interaction on Twitter. Giving the readers control of the series’ Twitter account before their reading is great.