Writing for Pleasure, Reading for Change

14 Jun 2012, Posted by admin in Packages,Stories, No Comments. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing for Pleasure, Reading for Change

Cincinnati’s creative appetite has increased since the innovative spoken-word series “The Things That My Friends Say.” At least one descendant has emerged.

Story by Kelsea Daulton; photos by Chelsea Gilbertson

Robby Wright dreamed of something new. A fourth-year English student at the University of Cincinnati and a lifelong resident of the Cincinnati area, Wright wanted to create a spoken-words series that defied the conventions of literary events and brought diverse people in Cincinnati’s writing community together in a comfortable setting.

He succeeded with the inclusive series The Things That My Friends Say (TTTMFS) at the now-defunct CS13 Gallery on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The series, which concluded a 13-month run last fall, redefined the archetype of spoken-words events.

The problem with such events, Wright said, is that many happen at the same venue and are attended by the same group. “There’s a niche of those people that go to the same place that read to their installed audience,” he said. “(The group) doesn’t really mingle very much.”

With TTTMFS, Wright scheduled four uniquely different writers for each monthly session with the goal of building an organic tension. He sought an atmosphere that was “smugly aware that poetry is so self-aggrandizing and self-important. [I] wanted to trivialize it, to make it feel inviting,” he said.

The gathering of vastly different ethnicities and age groups guaranteed that the events would be eclectic and sometimes awkward, but not in a destructive way, Wright said. He put the names of emerging writers on flyers, making it feel like an official event, one that writers and other people would look forward to.

Although the CS13 Gallery and TTTMFS are no longer active, the impact the series had on participants is beyond nostalgic.

“CS13 and TTTMFS not only helped me find community, in many ways it helped me find myself as a writer,” said Yvette Nepper, a poet who read in the series. The Cincinnati resident said she not only valued the readings in the series, but the time before and after the events because of the socially and creatively productive atmosphere.

Nepper has been published in Milk Money, a literary magazine founded in Cincinnati, and has read in multiple settings in Cincinnati, primarily in the series Bitch’s Brew and The Important People. Both series are young and native to Cincinnati.

Wright began TTMFS to defy the boundaries of conventional literary events by inclusively choosing readers and, ironically, forcing participants out of their comfort zones to encourage a welcoming environment. (Photo by Chelsea Gilbertson / NMB)

Literary events tend to disband quickly, and TTTMFS was no exception. “As soon as a (literary event) ends, somebody else will pick it up… There’s a need [and] a desire for literary things to keep happening… but things fizzle out for some reason,” said Megan Martin, another published writer who participated in the series.

After moving to Cincinnati from Chicago, Martin began reading locally when she substituted for a reader in the Bon Mot/ley Reading Series at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. The reading revealed other opportunities in Cincinnati.

Nepper captured the fleeting nature of the local literary social community with a metaphor about the fashion industry. “Something will get hot really quick, and… then it has to move onto the next thing because it can’t be hot for too long. It gets really big really quick, and you have to be lucky enough to catch it.”

After TTTMFS ended in September, Martin and Nepper wanted to replicate the unique environment. Martin described the new reading series The Important People as a spin-off of TTTMFS, but with more of an investment in joining different types of art, including music, visual art and poetry. The Important People is a collaborative effort of Martin, Nepper, Patricia Murphy, Megan Scharff and Mark Mendoza.

Nepper and Martin credit Wright for the success of the experimental series, and for their desire to feel that tension again. “His personality shaped it so much because he’s such a warm, inviting and inclusive person,” Martin said. Because the series was so inclusive, she said, it had “this strange dynamic because anything can happen.”

“He opened the door to whoever wanted to read,” Nepper said. “I don’t know [of] anyone that knew of the series that wanted to read, but didn’t get the opportunity to.”

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