There's a little piece in this week's arts section (on the streets today) about a new local reading series called Literary Mixtape. Literary Mixtape puts a twist on the standard readings formula in that its participants read not their own work, but the work of writers they're passionate about. To quote the press release, the series invites "various prominent or well-read or stout-hearted people around town to get up and read other people's literature of whatever stripe (poem, fiction, essay) that they’re genuinely, personally excited about, and that they think other people would be excited about."
The inaugural event, tomorrow night at Valentine's, features readings from organizers Matthew Korfhage and Erik Bader (both freelancers for the Other-Weekly-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) and musician Pete Swanson of Yellow Swans. They'll be reading works by Leonard Michaels, Grace Paley, Barry Hannah, Mark Levine, and others. Bader and Korfage also have a lofty list of prospective future invitees (Sam Adams, Zooey Deschanel, Jonathan Raymond, Isaac Brock, Charles D’Ambrosio... etc), and for their next event they're already courting Kevin Sampsell and the Gossip's Nathan Howdeshell.
I sent some follow-up questions about the series to Bader and Korfhage (who are producing the series under the moniker "Fort Saint Davids")—you can read that exchange after the jump.
Literary Mixtape; Thursday February 11, Valentine’s, 232 SW Ankeny, 7 pm, free
Mercury: Can you explain the who/what of "Fort Saint Davids"? I don't know what that means.
The True Secret Origin story: a few years back, Erik Bader had it in his head to publish his first novel, priced it out, realized he couldn't afford it, tried to get a grant, couldn't without a DUNS number, made some calls and got one under the name Fort Saint Davids—which was once the name of the remote Philadelphia neighborhood he lived in at the time, hundreds of years prior, when there were no buildings, just a fort. Grant writers never called back, but the local police department would, asking if Fort Saint Davids would care to donate. After some time, Fort Saint Davids came to be just what we called anything we did—hey, the Beatles weren't Beatles, that's just what they called their collective endeavor. Everyone gets a group name, why not some writers who get along? The way we see it, every band or scene or whatever has their little clubhouse—but you're not invited. Ours is more like a tree fort—hey, climb on up! The criteria for being a part of Fort Saint Davids is the "if you say it / you are it" clause, like Khrisna or hipster: for example, just by doing this interview, you're now a member. Welcome!
Why does Portland want/need another reading series? What do you hope to add to the local literary culture with this?
Well, we're not worried about somehow having too much literature floating around. If you could pop into a random bar or cafe and hear good lit the same way you can always go see a band or watch a movie, we wouldn't see the downside. It's true, though, that good writers are rarer even than good drummers (who are also rare), so aside from excellent series like Loggernaut or Mountain Writers, people's whole notion of local reading series has been hurt by a lot of Plath-damaged slam poets or self-serious fidgeters. And then people start wondering things like: is this all necessary? Still, we're not concerned about demand so much—despite what you hear on the news, people are always hungry for literature, art, and other good things—just about what we can bring to an audience. This is all for love, not money, so we want everybody to be having a good time, us included.
That said, Literary Mixtape is a much different deal from a regular author reading. We're pretty much asking people to DJ books. (We avoid the term BJ for this.) People don't normally do that, that we're aware of.
We're tapping the city's taste, not its writing talent, so it's pretty much limitless. People love to share the stuff they love, and that kind of enthusiasm is contagious. Could be Gargantua and Pantagruel, could be Icelandic fables, could be the dirty bits in Samuel Delaney's science fiction, should hopefully be amazing stuff we've never heard of at all. For the first event one of the things Matthew will read is a really wild, really beautiful passage from a much-maligned book by Harold Brodkey, about what it's like to physically become one's own sister. Maybe somebody else thinks Larry McMurtry is underappreciated, who knows? (We sort of think he's underappreciated.)
In general, though, we're trying to invite people whom other people might want to hear from, people who are publicly or privately interesting. Mixtape-making was always sort of a romance, as it goes, so it matters who sends you one.
Do you plan to vet your readers' selections at all? (Zooey Deschanel was genuinely, personally excited about... I don't know, something obvious, a Dave Eggers book, would that fly?)
Well, we curate the people, and the people curate the books. That's all there is to it.
Most of the people we want to invite, it's because we already know they've got deep, excellent taste in books. With some—local celebrities, for example—the audience already has a connection to them that comes from a different place. With luck, both are true, and then those are the people on our serious, serious wishlist.
Of course, you hope everybody's got stunning, surprising, under-the-radar taste in literature, but you can't control it. We'd be really insanely excited to have someone like Danny Glover—about whose taste we know precisely nothing—come down and read everybody a children's story, even, in that little bar in downtown Portland. Why not? If we could somehow get Sam Adams to read from his favorite book, we'd be ecstatic. (These people are not at all in our rolodex, by the way, but will nonetheless get really nice invitations in the mail.)
In any case, we all have our own opinions about what's great and what's not, what's obvious and what's not, but the only thing we'd really deep-six are pieces that somebody else has already read at a previous Mixtape event. There are enough books out there; we don't need to stutter.
Any plans to sell/distribute/lending-library the works your readers recommend?
If one of our readers wanted to loan out a book to someone in the audience, we would be 100% behind that.
Spontaneous bookswaps are also recommended, as is the egg-glazed tofu dish at Powell's Seafood Restaurant (it's really, really good.)
What's the schedule for future events—have any been been lined up? How about future readers?
More than quarterly, less than monthly, is the idea. We don't want to bore ourselves or wear out our welcome, and especially not compromise what we'd like to do just because we need somebody to fill a timeslot. Once we get the people lined up, we plan the date.
For the next one up, we've talked to Nathan Howdeshell/Brace Paine from The Gossip, and to Kevin Sampsell, and both seem to be game so far. So once we line up a third person, we'll try to find a date that works for everybody.
Aaaand please take this opportunity to make any concluding smart/self promotional remarks you might like to get on the record.
Oh, lordy. We're just stoked about what was pretty much an accidental idea. We hope other people are, too. Do we have a website? We do: dailymiltonian.wordpress.com. We highly suggest bookmarking it and checking it daily, as doing so brings us closer. Aw.