May 24, 2009

Bookmarks, the Memoir Project Reading Series, May 11

This was the first in a series of programs that will continue to December at The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. Tonight's program was titled "Remembrance" (somewhat redundant in a series on "memoirs") & it was "curated" by Julie Gutman  (in photo to the right) & Donna Miller. The program was designed to solicit audience responses to a list of writing prompts based on the work of the readers. The Center even gave out little notebooks (like the ones Jack Kerouac stuck in his shirt pocket, I thought) & pens for audience members to write down responses. However, the frequent breaks, which often went too long, were more profitably used to network & chat; moreover, some of the readers selections went on just too long, with audience members waiting for the next break to bail out. Needless to say, by the end of the evening no one in the audience showed any interest in reading.

For the most part, the readings were engaging & the organizers attempted to link pieces thematically. The writers included frequent attendees at local readings, Mimi Moriarty & Alan Casline; Gary McLouth (see the picture to the left) who in the past had read at the Readings Against the End of the World & other community events, read a 
fictional piece in the voice of his father.

Other readers included Donna Miller (former president of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild), Julie Gutman, Anne Pfeffer, Phyllis S. Hillinger & Rev. Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

It was clear that the Arts Center did not know what to do with the hodge-podge of entries they received in response to their call for "memoir," as well as how to put together a program that didn't trap people in their black box theater for hours. This particular program was also clearly a test of one possible format. Personally, I think asking for audience involvement in a program already lasting 2 hours was too much. Hopefully these kinks will be worked out as the series continues.

For me, "memoir" is just a marketing technique. All writing is autobiographical (someone tell me who I borrowed that from?), & if Jack Kerouac was publishing his novels today, they would be marketed as "memoirs" rather than fiction. In fact, his first draft of On the Road with the original (real) names of the characters was published recently. Predictably it adds nothing to the thrill of reading the novel; the key to the characters was published years ago Jack's Book by Barry Gifford & Lawrence Lee so there weren't any surprises there either.

There are 5 more readings in the series, each with different "themes" & "curated" (these visual arts-oriented organizations still haven't figured out how to deal with the literary world on its own terms) by different local literary women. The dates are June 1 (Selfhood), October 5 (Travel), November 9 & 16 (Family) & December 7 (Relationship). I have been asked to read at the December 7 event. All are Monday nights, start at 7:00 PM & are at The Arts Center in Troy, NY, free.