When my fiction writer friend Jen Michalski invited me to co-host a new brand of live literary event in town, a theatrical presentation/celebration of literature, music and art that pushed the envelope in any direction we chose, I knew my answer was yes before she’d finished speaking. Since I relocated to Baltimore 10 years ago to study fiction in the JHU Writing Seminars, I’ve attended a wide array of literary readings — most peopled roughly 80 percent by fellow writers — some events amazing, some just fine plus a single bright spot, others pulse-free. All have shared one thing in common, however: A fairly serious vibe.
At a time when literary book publishing faces, if not possible extinction, a radical morphing of shape and marketing plan, as with all forms of print media, perhaps fiction writers are the most sober creatures of all. I get that. Sometimes this energy saddens me. After all, my fiction writer friends are among the wittiest and most sardonic folks I’ve ever known. Otherwise, how could they write such revelatory material?
As an undergrad intern at “The Late Show with Conan O’Brien,” I saw such beauty, such humanistic art, in humor, or I wouldn’t have spent long days cloistered in the NBC library prepping interviews for the show, reading about Suzanne Somers’ penchant for fine bed linens and rich salad dressing (not taken together) and John Lithgow’s inherited “theater blood.” The lighthearted thought of bringing dedicated local creatives of all sorts — writers, musicians, artists, comics, etc. — onto a stage and shaking them down for personal details (e.g. expensive bed linens) inspired me. The thought of encouraging laughter among our inky tribe and other like-minded groups as well, and meanwhile inviting the entire town to enjoy the loose spectacle, got me super excited. Reading about Conan’s guests’ lives, I understood better why I wanted to write believable details about characters’ lives, lives I made up… But something second clicked: Knowing people well could lead to knowing my characters well. And learning to laugh at myself, that could help me out a lot, too.
“The Lit Show is like nothing I’ve ever done — literary salon, talk show, traveling circus…” explains Jen. “We are the perfect people, I think, to [host this] because we love the small stuff, the behind-the-scenes stuff. Particularly when it comes to artists. I always want to tell people about my interesting friends who happen to be writers. But sometimes literature can be a barrier for people, in either that they don’t read books or that they have misconceptions about authors — that they’re lofty, introverted, serious-minded people — when in fact neither is true. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is more than their stories. I wanted to do something celebratory and inclusive, celebrating the idea of person and story, rather than being serious. No one is going to stand at a lectern and read to the audience for twenty minutes. There’s an intimacy that we want to share, about the writer and their work, to de-mystify it.”
We hope you’ll join us tonight at 8 at the Creative Alliance for artistic idiocy — Jen and I are eager to interview hilarious nonfiction writer and Hopkins prof Cathy Alter, NPR-sensation Aaron Henkin, writer/comic Jim Meyer, plus a very cool mystery guest…and you’ll hear music by our terrific house band Howard Markman and Palookaville + the endlessly inventive Height with Friends. See y’all there!
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