FIRST READING, FIRST DATE

What was the first reading you ever went to? Tell us the author, book, and bookstore on our Facebook page (or, if you’re not a member of Facebook, here on our blog) and we’ll reward two people with an Algonquin book of their choice.
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Below, our newest hire–publicist extraordinaire Megan Fishmann–offers up her report on a recent New Stories from the South, 2010 event at Quail Ridge Books.

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I’ve never been to Raleigh.


Scratch that. I’ve been to the Raleigh airport once. And now that I think about it, the first weekend I moved here I found myself in the Crabtree Valley Mall, taking part in the $30.00 prime rib special at Flemings. But the Raleigh that I’ve read and heard about, its food and its culture, has been experienced mostly via my computer.


Before I came to Algonquin, I worked at another publishing house in New York City. This meant that I used to set up a lot of book events here in North Carolina. Names like The Regulator and McIntyre’s were exactly just that: names on a page. However, now one of those names–Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh–was going to be a place where I experienced my first Algonquin event.


Algonquin is an intimate company; and by intimate, I mean that we truly are a team. When one author reads, it doesn’t matter if you’re working on the book or not: You not only show up to the reading, you want to show up to the reading. Even on a Monday night. Even on a Monday night, the week before Labor Day weekend.


We drove to Quail Ridge in a caravan, our line of cars snaking down 40 West into the Raleigh traffic. The event on tap was for NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: 2010. Kathy Pories, the series editor, would lead the discussion and contributors Wells Tower and Aaron Gwyn would read from their collective stories “Retreat” and “Drive.” Wells was a Chapel Hill native. Aaron and his girlfriend would be making the two-hour trek from Charlotte.


People were already milling about by the time we got to Quail Ridge. I found Wells over by the magazines, perusing an issue of Garden and Gun. Aaron swept me into a bear hug when I approached him by the podium. These were friendly writers. These were good writers.


“It’s important,” owner Nancy Olson began, “to remember the independent bookstores. It makes a difference purchasing from them versus the chains. Coming here and supporting us really does matter. We appreciate your being here.” Nancy’s enthusiasm bubbled over and swirled around the packed audience. Kathy stood up and pointed out Ana Alvarez, another Algonquin team member, who previously sifted through hundreds upon hundreds of literary journals and magazines–locating Southern stories in general that Amy Hempel, the guest editor, would later choose for the final collection.


We listened as Wells and Aaron read about sex in cars and feuding brothers, death wishes and purchased mountains. People in the audience raised questions about revising short stories and what made Southern literature particularly Southern. Someone in the front row pointed out Wells’s recent accolades in a certain publication and he blushed. “That’s my dad,” he interrupted. “And I think that’s about enough for now.”


The short story was dissected and soon, it became a group discussion with the audience. The energy level  rose as people fought for the short story, for the novel, for physical books, and for independent bookstores. Who could even propose the notion that literature was dead?


The books signed, the chairs put away, we–the authors, the editors, the publicists, and the entourage–trudged over in the darkness to a nearby restaurant where Travis, our waiter, feted us with warm baked bread and mile-high piled burgers. Sated, our plates empty, we slipped back separately into our cars and disappeared into the night.

–Megan Fishmann, Publicist
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Quail Ridge Books & Music owner Nancy Olson introduces the reading



Aaron Gwyn reads from "Drive," his story in New Stories from the South, 2010



Wells Tower reads from his story "Retreat"




A full house!



Kathy Pories leads a discussion on Southern fiction



Wells, Aaron, and Kathy sign copies of New Stories from the South, 2010




The discussion continues long after the readings have finished



8 Comments On This Post:

September 2, 2010
1:52 pm
Pauline says...

My first author reading was by a local Filipino author, Ricky Lee.

His first book, Para Kay B (O Kung Paano Dinevastate ng Pag-Ibig and 4 out of 5 sa Atin) [trans: For B (Or How Love Devasted 4 Out of 5 of Us)] was such a big deal when it was published. Ricky Lee’s a well-known scriptwriter in the Philippines, and this being his first book, the event was attended by a lot of local celebrities. My college organization was contacted by the publisher to be the event’s manpower and organizing team, and was I starstruck. It wasn’t held in a bookstore, but rather in one of the buildings in the university (I go to the University of the Philippines Diliman). Oh, and some of the celebrities read passages from the book, too. Here’s a good one:

“Love has a quota. For every five people in love, only one will be truly happy. The rest, they’ll just keep on falling in love. Or love without learning anything. Or love for nothing. Or never love at all.”

September 2, 2010
1:54 pm
jennIRL says...

is it bad that i can’t remember exactly? it was either Madeline Albright (MADAM SECRETARY) or Diana Gabaldon (BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES), both at Changing Hands in Tempe — and both of the authors were absolutely lovely.

September 2, 2010
2:03 pm
Amy says...

Megan,

Lovely post! I like your style!

My first reading was at a local community college (Allan Hancock College) for a Japanese-American history event, focused on the internment camps. Thomas Higa did a reading from his book Memoirs of a Nisei. The entire event was fascinating (and crowded). Many speakers were present.

The subject is dear to me because I live in an agricultural region where many of the farm still belong to Japanese families who endured the forced confinement of Manzanar and Hart Mt. My dad worked in produce and he was close to many and I can remember his stories about the time and the fear-mongering.

September 2, 2010
2:14 pm
Vinton McCabe says...

I actually hosted the first reading I ever attended. I was working in a book store in Greenwich, CT at the time. I had sold so many copies of “The Country” that David Plante’s publisher, Atheneum, set up a reading. I introduced him, and must have set the bar a bit to high with my resounding praise, because after I finished introducing him, he stood up, reached over to pour himself a glass of water and instead knocked over the pitcher, the entire contents of which landed in his lap. He did the whole reading while drenched from the waist down. I spent the whole reading trying to look as if I were paying attention to what he read.

–V

September 2, 2010
3:02 pm
Doni Molony says...

My first reading was by Billy Collins, the book of poems was “Sailing Alone Across the Room” and I heard him at Brookline Booksmith, in Brookline, MA. What a treat. He was amazing.

September 2, 2010
4:02 pm
Here Be Dragons says...

When I lived in Alaska, I went to a poetry reading by a local author at the Juneau Public Library. The company and goodies provided were good reasons to come in out of the rain!

September 2, 2010
8:00 pm
Genevieve says...

My first reading was Dorothy Allison WITH Toni Morrison. I was so gobsmacked to be in the same room with both superstars that I could hardly keep it together. I certainly didn’t have the courage to get my books signed or speak to them after.

One of my favorite readings was Armistead Maupin reading from The Night Listener. I’m a landscaper and as he described his idyllic street and garden (novel was semi-autobiographical), I realized I knew exactly which home he lived in, since I’d long been admiring his Wisteria when I gardened for clients on that street. I spoke with him and he was as charming in person as one would imagine from his books.

I have also really loved Allison Bechdel and Amy Stewart. Stewart puts the simple reading to shame – she brings props and tells an ever-changing array of stories from her books. She’s got to be the liveliest speaker I’ve seen. Saw her Wicked Plants talk twice.

September 3, 2010
9:31 am
Peter Arts says...

My first reading was Kluun and his book Love Life. He travels around the country with Nightwriters. A show with writers, artist, comedy and eveything you don’t get on a normal reading.

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