Every night during my master's residency at Antioch University in LA, we have student and guest author readings, and Sunday night our readings were held at the eclectic Electric Lodge in Venice. Funky, off-the-beaten-track, small and intimate, the Electric Lodge is the perfect spot for performance poetry and readings.
Four graduating students started the evening, with powerful readings of poetry, nonfiction and fiction.
Learning how to present your work and read in public is an important skill, a critical diagnostic tool that gives the writer/reader specific feedback on not only the work but the effectiveness of the delivery.
I tell my students it's important to read one's work out loud. It helps pinpoint problems in rhythm, voice, cadence and logic. And it forces the writer to engage the material as a reader, which can reveal unresolved questions and pitfalls in the narrative.
I have spoken to many groups over the years, but reading my own work sparked feelings of terror and inadequacy like nothing I've ever done. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And the more you can learn from it.
Rounding out the evening at Electric Lodge were readings by Rob Roberge and Peter Selgin, accomplished authors and scholars who this semester have joined the adjunct faculty at Antioch.
Roberge, the author of two novels and numerous literary magazine pieces, read from his forthcoming noir novel, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, a hilarious and twisted story about two junkies so desperate for money they dig up the grave of one's grandmother to steal and pawn her gold jewelry. As Roberge read, the audience both guffawed and cringed at the horrific nature of the men's task. His prose was so strong, so descriptive, we were with these two losers throughout the awful deed, from falling through the top of the casket and listening to the grandmother's hip splinter, to squirming as they fished around what once was her neck to find her gold necklace. In the end, we were laughing and exclaiming "ewwwww!" at the same time. That's some awesome writing.
Selgin, the author of Drowning Lessons (winner of the 2007 Flannery O'Connor Award for Fiction) and the novel Life Goes to the Movies, read from his forthcoming memoir Confessions of a Left-Handed Man, which will be published this year by the University of Iowa Press/Sightline Books. He is also the author of two books on craft: By Cunning & Craft and 179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers.
Selgin's poignant and wry account of his best friends in junior high, including the notorious liar Victor, had the audience roaring with laughter, but also wistful over the evocation of that tender time when we cling to falsehoods, because that's the only safe thing to do.
Read your writing to yourself. Give voice to it and listen. If you can read it to a group, all the better. It's instructive for the writing, but also a powerful way to find your own voice and learn how to express it with strength and confidence. Isn't that what we all want in the end? A voice?