Learning how to Reading: “You can’t beat people to death with literature.”

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Chapter 14: An Interview with Jesse Bradley

Read chapters 1-13 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.)

I came across Jesse Bradley’s moving micro-fiction earlier this year, and a few months later, I coincidentally came across a micro-chapbook of fiction by Sam Slaughter, produced by a reading series Jesse hosts. This week, in my interview with Jesse, we talk about how these chapbooks tie into the reading, making it just one way that the There Will Be Words series stands out from many others I’ve come across.

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Name: Jesse Bradley

Location: Orlando, FL

What reading do you host? How long have you hosted it? 

JB: I am based out of Orlando, FL as is my reading series, There Will Be Words. TWBW just turned four in May.

How long have you been attending readings? 

JB: I think I have to break the answer up in two categories. Poetry slams: ten or so years. Readings: over four years.

Which category does TWBW fall into? 

JB: The main show, There Will Be Words, focuses on prose. Last August, I started a sister show called There Will Be Verse, which is a poetry slam judged by audience plausible instead of the standard point format.

What originally drew you to literary readings or slams?

JB: With poetry slam, it was the competitive format. I participated in open mics prior to discovering slam, and the audience’s attention span wasn’t as great as it is in slam. When I went to my first AWP in 2011, I discovered (and was part of) amazing readings that involved prose. It was the first time I really heard prose read live and read well.

Who are some prose readers you’ve seen (or featured) who really make it interesting?

JB: Everyone I book for There Will Be Words makes the show interesting, individually and collectively. In June, I had a reader who was locked out of his house all day and didn’t have his story on him so he performed it from memory. That was a first and it was one of those special moments you can’t predict.

As the host, what things do you try to do to make the audience feel comfortable, attentive, and keep-them-coming-back?

JB: You can’t beat people to death with literature. I’ve made that mistake myself and seen other readings that have made that mistake. You need to respect the time that your audience has set aside to come to your reading.

I typically book four readers and they have 1,000-1,500 words (that’s about 10-14 minutes a reader). I try and keep my banter and plugs short as well. The audience is there to hear the readers and not me. I also do special events throughout the year, like in March we do an annual flash fiction slam.

In October, we do flash horror/ghost stories where writers only have 500 words or less (this allows for eight writers). This month, we are doing a show devoted to fan fiction, which is either going to be a great idea or a hilarious trainwreck.

I saw a TWBW chapbook for a recent reader. Do you make one for each reading?

JB: In the first year, when Burrow Press was co-producing the show, it was. Originally, I wanted the writers to get a cut of the chapbook sales but after two months, the production costs wouldn’t allow for it.

In 2013, we tried bringing the chapbooks back. My wife designed the new InDesign templates and did all the lay out. The goal was to give writers a cut after costs were met. We stopped doing it after we couldn’t meet cost month to month after doing it for about six months. What I decided to do instead was that in our annual Best-of poll, the top vote getter would get a solo chapbook published and the three runners up would have their work in a chapbook. Susan Lilley was our first solo author. Sam Slaughter is our second.

How would you characterize the There Will Be Words readings in terms of audience? Who comes? 

JB: I would say our age range has to be 18-60. Our audience typically consists of past readers, current readers, friends and family of the readers, people who love #litlando.

How do you promote? 

JB: Through the local papers, Facebook ads, our website. I also go to other readings and promote those readings at my shows.

Excellent. What are some methods you think readings can use to promote to minority or disenfranchised readers/audience members? Or if you’ve seen any readings do this well, what techniques have they used? 

JB: That’s the challenge I’m struggling with. I’ve been very good about balancing gender at There Will Be Words for the past year or so but I know the racial diversity needs to be better. I am open for feedback and suggestions.

What is the best or funniest thing that’s ever happened at a reading? 

JB: The most recent best thing that happened was Michael Cuglettia performing his story from memory despite being locked out of his house all day. He did six or seven minutes. Prose writers aren’t known for performing from memory so that was really impressive.

Why do you host a reading? What is important about it? What is in it for you?

JB: I created There Will Be Words because Orlando didn’t have a regular prose reading series at that time. It was something that I wanted to bring greater visibility to. I ran a poetry slam for 10 years prior to There Will Be Words and there are challenges I don’t miss in running a traditional poetry slam that sent teams to competition. I’ve enjoyed every single minute of running There Will Be Words.

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Bradley is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominated writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals including decomPand Prairie Schooner. He was the Interviews Editor of PANK, the Flash Fiction Editor of NAP, and the Web Editor of Monkeybicycle. He is the author of the poetry collection Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), the novella Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012), and the graphic poetry collection The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014), illustrated by Adam Scott Mazer. His chapbook,NEIL, won Five [Quarterly]‘s 2015 e-chapbook contest for fiction. He is the curator of the Central Florida reading series There Will Be Words and lives at iheartfailure.net.

 

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About Author

Tyler Barton is one half of The Triangle, the fiction editor of Third Point Press, and an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University. His published stories can be found at tsbarton.com. Follow him @goftyler.

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