AT THE TIN HOUSE Workshop Summer Readings series, humorist poets and cultural theorists share the stage, established authors and relative newcomers get equal billing, and it's a rare opportunity for them all to try out new material. They're not on book tours, so they pull out what they're excited about. Some read from genres they're less known for, sometimes unplanned similarities or themes emerge from a night's otherwise disparate lineup, and sometimes authors come completely out of left field—like when Mary Ruefle read an essay about shrunken heads last year. Even if nothing like that happens, it's a (free) chance to sit outside at dusk and listen to great authors. Here are a few we recommend:
In recent years, David Shields has been almost comically prolific. He's proclaimed that literature saved his life, praised brevity, and co-authored books about arguing, faking, J.D. Salinger, and his cousin's sexual past. He's a rabble-rouser, campaigning for a new category of literature—a particular style of creative nonfiction/hybrid memoir from a precious few authors (see: Maggie Nelson, below, for one). Just as his books break down genres, his "readings" incorporate the unexpected and are rarely, if ever, readings.
w/Lan Samantha Chang, Benjamin Percy; Mon July 13, 8 pm
Seattle-raised writer Charles D'Ambrosio's 2014 essay collection, Loitering, was an instant classic of the genre. It questioned both progress and nostalgia, considered low and high culture equally, was haggard and kind, and lingered in "our kindred doubts" long enough to convince anyone of the beauty in not being sure. Many of its essays started as pieces for the Mercury's sister paper The Stranger, and its portraits of a scrappier, pre-Amazon Seattle are a must-read for any Northwesterner.
w/Robert Boswell, Claire Vaye Watkins; Wed July 15, 8 pm
Jenny Offill's poetically compact 2014 novel, Dept. of Speculation, carried the emotional weight of an epic. It was a travelogue through unplanned normalcy, a philosopher's guide to love and heartbreak. Offill's scope is broad: She's written children's picture books about mail-order sloths and the science of bad behavior, and edited anthologies on failed friendships and sudden turns of fortune.
w/Manuel Gonzales, Amy Gerstler; Thurs July 16, 8 pm
Victor LaValle is a streetwise Murakami raised on horror novels, writing metaphysical literary thrillers like 2009's Big Machine—a jaw-dropping, page-turning ride through second chances, black religious cults and secret societies, and the many realms of addiction. His tales are relentlessly surprising and weave with ease through the fantastical, the mundane, and the edges of sanity.
w/Maggie Nelson, Tony Hoagland; Sat July 18, 8 pm
Maggie Nelson operates as a cultural theorist, poet, and memoirist all at once. Her work bends genres without feeling forced or insincere, and appeals to a wide spectrum of people—it's especially wide when you consider her experimental use of form. Nelson's fanbase is obsessive and only growing with her latest, The Argonauts. She's doing it right—and not just by David Shields' standards.
w/Victor LaValle, Tony Hoagland; Sat July 18, 8 pm